The Home Office has ended a scheme to give councils additional payments to incentivise them to take in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from hotels, on its scheduled date.
As of today, authorities will no longer receive £15,000 for each child they take in from a hotel or from Kent council’s reception and safe care service, which supports newly arrived young people.
The scheme ran from 16 December 2022 until 28 February 2023, replacing one in which the Home Office provided £6,000 over three months for councils to take in a child from a hotel within five days of a request to do so.
End of £15,000 payment per child
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Due to the rise in dangerous small boats crossings, the government has had no alternative but to urgently use hotels to give unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the UK a roof over their heads.
“The Incentivised Funding Pilot provided £15,000 to local authorities for each unaccompanied child transferred into their care. We are evaluating the pilot now and continue to provide local authorities with standard payments for these children.”
From now on, councils will simply receive the funding of £143 per night per child that is given to any authority that takes in an unaccompanied young person through the Home Office’s national transfer scheme (NTS).
The scheme, which was made mandatory in December 2021, requires all authorities with social services responsibility across the UK to take in unaccompanied children to relieve the pressure on port authorities, such as Kent, amid rising numbers crossing the English Channel.
In an answer to a parliamentary question last week, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said that 3,148 children were transferred through the NTS from 1 July 2021 to 30 September 2022, compared with 739 over the same period from 2020-21.
‘Lack of suitable placements’
While council leaders previously welcomed the increased payments temporarily given for taking children from hotels, they have repeatedly warned that the core problem was the lack of placements, nationally, for unaccompanied young people. Growth in the number of asylum-seeking children drove the latest rise in the care population, official data shows.
The end of the incentive payment scheme comes amid ongoing concern about the safety and welfare of children in hotels.
In January, the government revealed that 4,600 unaccompanied children had been placed in Home Office-commissioned hotels since July 2021, with 440 episodes of children going missing during that time. At the time of the January statement, 200 children who had gone missing from hotels had not been found.
Charities, social work leaders and opposition parliamentarians have raised concerns about the risk of missing children being trafficked and a lack of safeguarding resource within hotels. An inspection of hotels last year by the chief inspector of borders and immigration found that the “failure to effectively identify and assess the needs of these young people, and to ensure that the operation to house them could meet these needs, led to inconsistent safeguarding and welfare outcomes”.
Legal status ‘a grey area’
In his parliamentary answer last week, Jenrick said that the “safety and wellbeing” of children in their care was ministers’ “primary concern” and pointed to the presence of support workers 24 hours a day in hotels, with the support of social workers and nurses.
However, Jenrick has previously admitted that the legal status of children in hotels was a “grey area”, as to whether they were in the care of the local authority in which the hotel was located.
The Home Office is believed to be considering taking on the role of corporate parent for these children itself, with the measure potentially being included in an immigration bill due to be published shortly.