Proposed new housing system for asylum seekers ‘not workable’, says housing department

Housing officials claim expert group recommendations will have ‘significant negative affect’ on homeless people

The expert group led by Dr Catherine Day  has called for a mandatory obligation to be placed on all local authorities to source own-door accommodation for asylum seekers. File photograph: Alan Betson

The expert group led by Dr Catherine Day has called for a mandatory obligation to be placed on all local authorities to source own-door accommodation for asylum seekers. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

The own-door accommodation system proposed by the Government expert group to replace direct provision is “not workable or implementable” and risks having “a significant negative affect” on the ability of homeless people to access housing, the department of housing has warned.

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has said it has “significant concerns” around the system proposed by the expert group led by Dr Catherine Day which has called for a mandatory obligation to be placed on all local authorities to source own-door accommodation for asylum seekers.

The group’s report, published in October, calls for the new asylum system to replace direct provision to be fully implemented by mid-2023. Its findings will inform a Government white paper which is scheduled for publication before the end of this year.

In its observations of the expert group’s report published on the Department of Justice website, the housing department says local authorities will be unable to find accommodation for asylum seekers given the lack of stock available to the general public.

It accuses the advisory group of failing to “effectively address” the issues laid out in the department’s June submission and warns the proposed system “has the potential to cut across and impact negatively on a range of other Government commitments to other vulnerable groups”.

The expert group’s proposals that accommodation be supplied by local authorities from a “severely constrained supply” is “unrealistic”, it argues.

Additional pressure on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) would have “a very serious impact” across the entire housing budget and “would inevitably lead to rental inflation”.

The proposed system will also create a situation where homeless families and people are competing for accommodation with people coming from direct provision, leaving more people homeless and in emergency accommodation, it adds.

The department states it is “fully supportive” of the group’s efforts to tackle the asylum issue but that securing housing for people leaving direct provision and moving into private rental accommodation is already a challenge. The two-and-a-half year timeframe for clearing the existing backlog of people leaving the system and awaiting housing is “overly ambitious”, it notes.

The suggestion that people will be relocated out of private rental accommodation if they receive leave to remain is “built on a false premise”, it says, adding that people may not be willing to leave having settled and integrated into the local community.

It also expressed concerns that those served with deportation orders but who continue to avail of housing for a period before leaving the country would build up arrears and could “resist tenancy termination”.

The Day report’s proposals are “almost exclusively dependent on the private market, and are not considered workable or implementable without having a significant negative affect on the ability of other cohorts, such as homeless people, to access housing in a severely constrained housing market”, it writes.

If the proposals are implemented, local authorities will have to use their own stock “which was meant for social housing applicants”, it states.

Introducing thousands of asylum seekers into the private housing market, where 68,000 households are already on the housing list, could “foreseeably have a displacement effect” for low to medium income families currently in rented accommodation, it adds.

The department notes that local authorities are already providing supports to refugees granted international protection or leave to remain and who are seeking housing after leaving the direct provision system.

It recommends that the Government prioritise a “blended solution” combining “new build appropriately scaled direct provision centres” with vacant housing. In the event of a surge in asylum applications, housing could be supplemented “on an exceptional basis” through the private rental market.

The housing department argues it is “unclear” why its staff should be responsible for housing asylum seekers when the direct provision portfolio has been transferred to the Department of Children and Equality. In its report, the expert group notes on a number of occasions that a whole-of-government approach is needed to ensure the system which replaces direct provision succeeds.

Asked last week to comment on the lack of housing stock nationwide, Dr Day said she recognised it would “take time for local authorities to build up housing” but that housing pressure was not the same in every county in Ireland. “We believe with close co-operation between local authorities, NGOs and local communities it can be done”.