Blackpool council has accused the Home Office and Serco of deliberately acting to frustrate the justice system after placing asylum seekers in a hotel, despite objections that the accommodation was wholly unsuitable.
About 140 people, mostly families, have moved into the Grand Metropole on Blackpool promenade. Blackpool council had said using the hotel for temporary accommodation required planning consent and it had been going to seek a court injunction on Monday in an attempt to stop the arrangement.
The seaside resort is particularly busy at present. The Blackpool Illuminations light show runs until 3 January and the town is also hosting the World Fireworks Championships near the hotel, likely to cause disruption and noise to the hotel’s vulnerable residents.
Blackpool is the latest council to express concern about the suitability of housing asylum seekers in hotels. Earlier this month, a report documented the deterioration in the mental and physical health of asylum seekers in Glasgow when housed in hotels.
Lynn Williams, the Labour leader of Blackpool council, said the local authority was promised it would be informed in advance of any arrivals, and that nobody would be placed in the hotel before Monday at the earliest. However, people were moved in overnight on Sunday and in the early hours of Monday morning, with more expected this week.
Williams said the council had received no official notification until Monday lunchtime, despite the assurances sought on behalf of local health leaders, who said services were facing unprecedented demand.
The council leader said she was “further disappointed” that the Home Office and Serco had made the move after being informed the council was seeking an injunction, with a court hearing scheduled for Monday. “I am saddened that they have acted in a way that smacks of a deliberate move to frustrate the justice system,” she said.
Williams urged Blackpool residents to show compassion and understanding to the “very vulnerable families and children who have arrived with us here in Blackpool”. She said the council would work to ensure that the “appropriate support” was in place for the families, and would be reviewing its legal position.
Serco and the Home Office have been criticised for placing asylum seekers in Britannia hotels in Wolverhampton and Wigan this month. Lisa Nandy, the town’s MP, said that the hotel, which has been targeted by a far-right group, had previously been deemed “completely unsuitable accommodation” for asylum seekers.
The leader of Wolverhampton council, Ian Brookfield, also accused Serco of lacking humanity, when 200 Afghan families were placed in the city without warning. “Some of them have arrived here in a terrible state, there’s people with no clothes, no nappies for the kids,” Brookfield said. “We know Serco are running this, but they could at least put a little bit of humanity into it. As a council, we are left out of the whole process.”
Serco was one of the three outsourcing firms awarded the contract to house asylum seekers in 2019, despite having been fined nearly £7m for previous failings. The firm, which has the contract for housing in the north-west, the Midlands and the east of England, said hotels were used only as a “last resort”.
“With the significant increases in the number of people arriving in the UK we have been faced with no alternative but to temporarily accommodate some asylum seekers in hotels”, said Jenni Halliday, Serco’s contract director for asylum accommodation services.
According to Home Office statistics, there were 31,115 asylum applications in the UK in the year ending June 2021, 4% fewer than the previous year. The government has promised to allow 20,000 Afghan refugees to settle in the UK, with 5,000 expected to arrive by the end of 2021.
The Home Office said that the “unprecedented demand” meant temporary accommodation such as hotels has had to be used “to manage demands on the asylum estate”. It said the Home Office had met local police, public health providers and officers from Blackpool council, and that all hotels used by the Home Office met health and safety legislation.