The Government is set to end its two-decade long reliance on privately supplied housing and use State-owned accommodation to house asylum seekers, according to a plan to end direct provision.
The details are included in a White Paper on ending direct provision, published on Friday by the Department of Children and Equality, which proposes a two-stage “blended” accommodation system.
Newly arrived asylum seekers will spend a maximum of four months in State-owned reception centres before moving into not-for-profit housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs).
Housing for single people will also be acquired through “urban renewal initiatives” and “rent-a-room schemes” while private tenancies will be used to house some families, according to the report.
The bill for the new asylum system, including securing or building accommodation, could reach €672 million. However, the costs could fall to €450 million or so if lower-cost options are found.
The department plans to have the new system, which will be “grounded in the principles of human rights, respect for diversity and respect for privacy and family”, up and running by December 2024.
Under the proposals, asylum seekers will stay in one of six reception centres for an “orientation period”, with “own-door” accommodation for families and “own-room” accommodation for single people.
Here, they will receive information on health, education, childcare, employment and legal aid supports, undergo vulnerability assessment and be offered English language classes.
They will also receive a “bespoke allowance” while in the reception centre, similar to that currently given to people in direct provision, which began in the State 21 years ago.
After four months, they will be moved into not-for-profit self-contained houses or apartments which will be sourced and financed by AHBs.
This accommodation will be provided separately to the social housing the AHBs provide for local authorities, according to the plan seen by The Irish Times.
A national settlement plan, currently being drafted by senior local authority and government officials, will lay down how many people are accommodated in each county based on population density, housing needs, applicant needs and the availability of services.
Applicants will be encouraged to seek paid work after six months in the country, but will continue to quality for State supports. Those not in work will receive income similar to the State’s supplementary welfare payment
Public authorities will be notified when a decision is made to build, acquire or lease accommodation and a consultation process will be carried out with communities where new reception centres are set to open.
The Government will honour, and may renew, existing direct provision contracts with private operators until the transition to the new asylum system is complete.
The department has said it plans to “move away” from its reliance on emergency accommodation centres by the end of 2021. The proposed model is designed to accommodate 3,500 applicants annually, the paper notes.
Just over 1,500 applications for protection were made in 2020, a significant drop on the 4,781 made in 2019. However, nearly 7,000 people, including 1,993 children, are currently in the direct provision system.
Waiting times for asylum applications should be reduced to six months and additional resources are needed to clear the current backlog, the White Paper argues.
The Department of Justice, which still oversees the processing of asylum claims, said on Thursday it was putting in place a “range of measures” to make the process more efficient, including better use of IT technology.
Asylum seekers are currently waiting nearly 18 months for their applications to be processed despite the Government’s commitment to process requests within nine months.
An external expert advisory group will be appointed to oversee the new plan.