Asylum seekers left sleeping rough for several nights were accommodated following an intervention from civil servants, Westminster Council’s chief executive confirmed.
Stuart Love told councillors that the situation had arisen because of a ‘change in policy’ on the part of the Home Office to allocate more immigrants per room in order to use up less hotel space.
At the start of June, a group of over 40 asylum seekers were left sleeping on the street outside a Pimlico hotel for several nights after refusing an offer of four people to a room.
Mr Love said that the number was reduced to two per room following discussions between the council and civil servants, and in a thinly veiled criticism at the government, accused the Home Office of ‘not always’ sticking to the rules it had agreed with the local authority.
He said: “Ultimately this is about relationships with the Home Office and the provider, as well as the Home Office sticking to the protocols they have agreed with us, which isn’t always the case.”
“We are looking to how we can work with the new arrangements that the Home Office has effectively imposed.
“In this instance we’ve gone directly to the Home Office with our concerns. Initially there were four people per room.
“It was through the approach to civil servants that that was put down to two people per room.”
He added that Westminster was also working with other councils across London to push the Home Office for more emphasis on migrants’ welfare.
“But more broadly there’s an ongoing activity that we are part of as a pan-London approach back to the Home Office to say there’s got to be more equitable splitting people when they are faced because of the pressure it puts on services, and pushing harder the welfare and wellbeing side as well.”
In the wake of the Pimlico incident, Council Leader Adam Hug exchanged letters with Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, the latter insisting he would not ‘elevate the interests of illegal migrants over the interests of the British public’.
Mr Hug told councillors on Thursday that similar problems could happen again as a result of the government’s policy.
He said: “We are going to be facing more of this as the government decides it doesn’t want to give out more hotels and will be increasing the number of people in each individual hotel whilst not clearing the backlog.
“We got to the right place in the end but it did mean people were on the streets for two days which was not acceptable in any way and could have been resolved if there had been coordination early between the council and the Home Office and, ultimately, a degree of pragmatism at the Home Office about what was appropriate for that particular site.”
Asked if lessons had been learnt from the Pimlico incident, Mr Love implied he lacked confidence that current policy would prevent similar circumstances with asylum seekers in the future.
“In order for me to say no, I would have to be able to tell you that I am a hundred percent confident that the Home Office will communicate with us effectively.”
Mr Hug said: “At an official level they’ve spelt backwards that there are lessons being learnt about how this is done and there were promises made that communication would be better in future, but certain past performance suggests that we can’t one hundred percent rely on that, even though the individual Home Office officials who got this resolved understand the challenges.
“But it’s a process where they are trying to do this across the country in a very tight system without much resources.”