Home Office housing provider to make urgent repairs to asylum seeker flats

Asylum seekers’ accommodation in Uxbridge, west London, in mid-December. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

The Guardian
By Diane Taylor

Private contractor Clearsprings takes action after the Guardian exposed poor conditions in west London

A Home Office accommodation provider is making urgent improvements to flats for asylum seekers in the prime minister’s constituency after the Guardian exposed poor conditions there.

Eighteen flats in Uxbridge, west London, housing dozens of asylum seekers, were found to be rife with damp, mould, water leaks and pest infestations. The Home Office admitted that the conditions “clearly fall short of the high standards we expect from our contractors”. Hillingdon council said conditions in the properties were under investigation.

The Guardian has also received complaints about asylum accommodation in a central London hotel used by the Home Office to house asylum seeker families. Problems reported there includs severe bed bug infestations, water leaking through the ceiling, electricity faults, and a fire in a ground-floor annexe last month that caused the evacuation of the hotel.

Both of these sites are managed by a private firm, Clearsprings, on behalf of the Home Office. As more complaints are made about conditions in some of the asylum seeker accommodation run by Clearsprings, it has emerged that the company’s three directors were paid increased dividends last year of £7m between them.

The previous year the dividend was £1m, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The accounts show that the company’s operating profit increased from £796,304 in January 2020 to £4.4m in January 2021. Along with its Home Office work – the 10-year accommodation contract runs until 2029 – the company also has a five-year contract with Kent county council until 2023. Clearsprings declined to comment on the dividend payout.

Hillingdon council carried out urgent inspections of the Uxbridge flats on 22 December. The asylum seekers told the Guardian that a flurry of activity followed the article, with contractors sent round to deep clean and redecorate some of the accommodation.

Some of the asylum seekers received an undated note from Clearsprings after the article, which stated: “We will be vacating everyone … urgently. Once we find suitable accommodation. This might possibly happen next week. I advise you pack your belongings.” Some have now been offered alternative housing in east London and Yorkshire.

Stuart McDonald, the MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, condemned Clearsprings. He said: “Outsourced asylum accommodation has been a total disaster from the outset. Clearsprings’ accounts suggest that the ‘new’ contracts awarded in 2019 have simply proved to be a goldmine for the owners of Clearsprings and others – despite the fact that the asylum seekers they accommodate have continued to endure totally unacceptable conditions. The scandal of outsourced accommodation must be stopped.”

Hannah Marwood, of the charity Care4Calais, which is providing support to asylum seekers in the Uxbridge flats and the central London hotel, said: “These are not isolated incidents. Supporting thousands of asylum seekers across the country, we see the conditions some are forced to live in and the huge toll living in these conditions takes on people who have suffered painful and traumatic past experiences. The government should treat every life with respect and dignity, not allow its contractors to cut corners, seemingly for profit.”

A Clearsprings spokesperson said about the Uxbridge flats: “We can confirm that work to the property is ongoing and it is hoped this will be concluded as soon as possible.”

Commenting on the problems at the central London hotel, the spokesperson said: “Clearsprings Ready Homes works closely with its delivery partners to ensure that safe, habitable and correctly equipped accommodation is provided. Whenever issues are raised, or defects are identified, Ready Homes will undertake a full investigation and ensure that those issues are addressed.”

A Hillingdon council spokesperson said: “This is a live case being investigated by our private sector housing enforcement team, so we can’t disclose further information at this stage.”

A Home Office spokesperson said in response to complaints about conditions in the central London hotel: “We are dealing with unprecedented pressures on the asylum system, but despite this, we continue to ensure the accommodation provided is safe, comfortable and secure.”

Home Office sources acknowledged there had been bed bug infestations and electrical problems at the hotel, which the sources said had now been resolved.