‘Asylum seeker housing to cost £5 billion a year under Government’s Rwanda plan’

The Bibby Stockholm barge (Getty Images)
The Bibby Stockholm barge (Getty Images)

Asylum seeker accommodation costs will eventually exceed £5 billion annually even if the Government’s Rwanda deportation plan is ruled lawful by the Supreme Court, a report reveals.

Housing costs will balloon as a “perma-backlog” of asylum seeker cases grows, even if the Government were to remove hundreds of people to Rwanda, think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has said.

The report said that the rate of new arrivals seeking asylum in the UK is likely to outpace removals, and the Illegal Migration Bill and Rwanda plan are “unlikely to have a major deterrent effect on arrivals”.

The IPPR said even if there is a high rate of removals of 500 people per month to countries such as Rwanda, annual housing costs of those in limbo could still exceed £5 billion (at current prices) after five years of the key provisions of the Illegal Migration Bill coming into force.

If only 50 people are removed each month, housing costs would be even greater – more than £6 billion, the report said.

The 2024 general election will be a “crucial reset moment for asylum policy”, the report added.

“This briefing makes clear that there is no scope for asylum policy to be side-lined after the next election…without urgent action the asylum system will fall into a still deeper crisis.

“Whoever forms the next government, asylum will have to be a priority in the early days of the new parliament.”

The prime minister has pledged to “stop the boats” as one of his five priorities for Government.

Central to the Government’s plan to crack down on Channel crossings is its flagship Illegal Migration Act – which will place a duty on the Home Secretary to remove irregular arrivals and not consider their asylum claims – as well as the agreement to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda.

But the plan to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda in a bid to help clear the Home Office backlog of 130,000 cases was ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal in June.

The Government plans to take the decision to the Supreme Court while the daily number of migrants crossing the English Channel reached a 2023 record earlier this month.

The backlog of asylum seekers awaiting an initial decision on their claim has more than tripled in the past three years, reaching over 172,000 people at the end of March 2023.

The backlog is currently costing around £3.6 billion a year, including around £2.3 billion on hotels. In June, more than 50,000 people were in hotels and other contingency accommodation.

Meanwhile, the cost of accommodating asylum seekers has increased from an average of £14 per person per night in 2018 to an average of £90 per person per night in May 2023, the report said.

But the Illegal Migration Act could worsen the situation further, the IPPR report suggests, by creating a “perma-backlog” of people whose asylum claims cannot be processed and who cannot be removed.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (PA)

Following the assumptions in the Illegal Migration Act economic impact assessment – 85 per cent of irregular arrivals will require accommodation support at an estimated cost of £85 per night.

The IPPR estimated that around 50 to 500 people will exit asylum accommodation each month, because they are either returned or removed to a third country like Rwanda.

But it is unlikely that Rwanda will have the capacity to process significant numbers of asylum applicants.

According to the UNHCR, in 2021 Rwanda received a total of 408 asylum applications and made a total of 487 asylum decisions.

“Its ability to scale this up to the tens of thousands appears far-fetched,” the IPPR report said.

“For these reasons, whether or not they are implemented in full, it appears unlikely that the Illegal Migration Act and the Rwanda deal will have a meaningful deterrent effect in the coming 12-18 months before the general election.

“There is so far little evidence that the Rwanda plans or the government’s legislative efforts have made any real impact on arrivals. The number of small boat arrivals in 2023 is so far similar to the number in 2022.”

Marley Morris, associate director for migration, trade and communities at IPPR, said: “There is only a very narrow window for government success on asylum, based on its current plan to forge ahead with the Rwanda deal and the Illegal Migration Act. Even with the Act fully implemented, under most plausible scenarios arrivals will still outpace removals.

“This will mean a growing population of people permanently in limbo, putting huge pressure on Home Office accommodation and support systems – plus a risk of thousands of people who vanish from the official system and are at risk of exploitation and destitution.

“Any incoming government would be likely to face a dire and increasingly costly challenge which it would need to address urgently from the outset – there will be no option to ignore or sideline the crisis it inherits.”

The Government is looking to secure new contingency accommodation – including the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset and military sites – to cut hotel costs.

But the barge has been beset with problems, including a Legionella bacteria scare, with the transfer of asylum seekers onto the vessel slow.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Illegal Migration Act will help to clear the asylum backlog by allowing us to detain and swiftly remove those who arrive here illegally. While we operationalise the measures in the Act, we continue to remove those with no right to be here through existing powers.

“We are also on track to clear the ‘legacy’ backlog of asylum cases. It has been reduced by a nearly a third since the start of December and we have doubled the number of asylum decision makers in post over the past two years.”

The Home Office aims to have 2,500 decision makers by next month and work is underway to redesign the training for asylum decision makers.

In March each case worker carried out on average seven interviews or made initial decisions on cases per month, compared to just four in December 2022.

In June the Home Office published an Economic Impact Assessment which indicated that the Illegal Migration Bill will save the UK taxpayer £106,000 for every illegal migrant deterred from making a dangerous small boat crossing.