The ‘secretive’ talks on where asylum seekers can live in Manchester as ban could be lifted

Serco has refused to comment on its request to lift the moratorium on asylum seeker accommodation in north Manchester.
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A deal brokered more than a decade ago to stop asylum seekers being housed in north Manchester could be lifted – but no one wants to talk about it. The ban on new asylum seeker accommodation is still in place in some parts of the city.

The moratorium on asylum seeker accommodation in certain Manchester postcodes was put in place during the last Labour government. But Serco – the company contracted by the government to house asylum seekers in the north west – wants to lift the moratorium, according to Manchester council.

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It comes as the government tries to cut the use of hotels as asylum seeker accommodation which it claims is costing the taxpayer £6million a day. In a bid to cut costs, it has recently started housing some people on a barge in Dorset.

Serco has refused to comment on its request to lift the moratorium on asylum seeker accommodation in north Manchester, while the Home Office did not address the claims directly. Broughton and Blackley MP Graham Stringer, who negotiated the moratorium nearly 20 years ago, has accused the government of being ‘secretive’, claiming he has not been contacted about lifting the ban.

The ban on new asylum seeker accommodation is still in place in some parts of Manchester.The ban on new asylum seeker accommodation is still in place in some parts of Manchester.
The ban on new asylum seeker accommodation is still in place in some parts of Manchester.

He said: “It’s very disturbing that the Home Office is being so secretive about this. The fact is that Manchester has taken a disproportionate number of people seeking refugee status and there’s a housing crisis in Manchester. The context has got worse in terms of housing anybody at the present time. My inbox at the moment is jammed full of people in desperate situations – either without housing or in housing that’s not fit for human habitation.”

The moratorium on new asylum seeker accommodation in the M8, M9 and M40 postcodes has been in place for more than a decade. Mr Stringer said asylum seekers were being housed in his constituency in unprecedented numbers and described his government’s policy as ‘disastrous’ at the time. He also spoke of asylum seekers being housed in the area with ‘little planning’, creating tensions in the community. Speaking ahead of a council by-election in 2007, he said that this created a ‘fertile breeding ground’ for the far-right.

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The Labour MP believes the policy should still be in place. However, in May, a Manchester council report revealed Serco would like to procure asylum seeker accommodation in the current moratorium area in his constituency.

The local authority said  a formal conversation between the minister and the MP would need to take place before the ban could be lifted. At a scrutiny meeting earlier this year, Nicola Rea – the council’s strategic lead for homelessness – said the Home Office informed the town hall of the request.

She said: “We have quite rightly gone back and said it was a political decision for the moratorium to be there and therefore it needs to be a political request back. So the Home Office and Serco have now gone in order to write a business case to be presented to the minister and for them to decide whether or not they’re going to take that forward and have that conversation.”

Mr Stringer said he has not been contacted by the Home Office or Serco about the moratorium. Manchester council did not comment further on the matter, but the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands the town hall is concerned that lifting the moratorium would add to housing issues in the area.

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The concern is that allowing Serco to buy accommodation to house asylum seekers in north Manchester would push prices up as people struggle to pay rent. It could also affect the local authority’s efforts to house the 15,000 people and their families currently waiting for social housing in the city.

Just 46 homes on the rental market in Manchester last year were affordable for people relying on housing benefits. The average cost of rent for a large family home in the city is now £821 more than the Local Housing Allowance.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office has a statutory obligation to provide accommodation for asylum seekers while we consider their claim for international protection. We are committed to making every effort to reduce hotel use and continue to work with local authorities to fairly disperse asylum seekers across the UK.”

Serco declined to comment.