UK

Vulnerable Afghans could end up homeless, Government warned

Cabinet Office minister Johnny Mercer says he sees no reason why Afghans being settled in the UK cannot live independently of central government support (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Cabinet Office minister Johnny Mercer says he sees no reason why Afghans being settled in the UK cannot live independently of central government support (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) Cabinet Office minister Johnny Mercer says he sees no reason why Afghans being settled in the UK cannot live independently of central government support (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Vulnerable Afghan families who fled to safety in the UK could end up homeless, the Government has been warned after it confirmed they have been told to leave temporary accommodation as soon as the end of this month.

The UK promised a safe haven for thousands of people who had to flee their home country as the Taliban swept back into power almost two years ago – with many living in hotels since arriving.

Cabinet Office minister Johnny Mercer told Parliament there is no reason why Afghans being settled in the UK cannot live independently of central government support, saying the Government expects “families to help themselves”.

As at the end of March, around 8,000 people remained in temporary bridging accommodation, more than half of whom had been there for more than a year.

Mr Mercer said that since then “many hundreds” had left their hotels and moved into settled housing but added that while progress had been made “there is more to do”.

In an accompanying written statement on Tuesday, he said people will be expected to have left their temporary accommodation by the time their notice period expires.

Residents have been given at least three months’ notice, he said, adding that for some the notice period expires at the end of July.

He said there will be some exceptions “as a final measure of goodwill”, whereby people with medical conditions requiring their attendance at a specific hospital and those who have been pre-matched to settled accommodation but have a short gap before they can move will have “time-limited interim accommodation” provided.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, said it agreed that Afghan families should not still be living in hotels and said the organisation shares the Government’s determination to get them into permanent homes.

But while it welcomed the exceptions announced by the Government, it added that the prospect of all those who are still in hotels finding affordable, long-term accommodation in the areas they want to live in will be “extremely challenging”.

The LGA set the task in the context of “increased demand and acute shortage of housing available across the country, combined with other pressures from across asylum and resettlement schemes”.

It said the risk of families ending up having to present as homeless to councils is real.

Shaun Davies, LGA chairman, said: “Councils remain hugely concerned that large numbers of families – some of whom are particularly vulnerable – may have to end up presenting as homeless, particularly larger and multi-generational families.

“This will mean them having to move into high-cost temporary accommodation rather than permanent homes.

“Councils will do all they can to minimise multiple moves and disruption for families in the remaining time before the hotel closures start, and to secure places in schools for any children moving to new areas when these start again in the autumn.”

Shadow defence minister Luke Pollard accused the Government of giving refugees the “cold shoulder”.

He told the Commons: “Operation warm welcome has become operation cold shoulder, with 8,000 Afghans told they will be forced out of temporary accommodation by the end of the summer.”

Mr Mercer said the Government had made £7,100 per person of flexible funding available “to support move-on, including through providing deposits, furniture, rental top-ups and rent advances”.

He said Afghans were being given “the most generous offer this country has ever made in the private rented sector and they get extraordinary amounts of assistance”.