Local government would welcome discussions with Government on potential impacts on councils of the Illegal Migration Bill. Consideration of Lords amendments will take place in the House of Commons from 12 July 2023.
Local government would welcome discussions with government on potential impacts on councils of the Bill including:
- accommodation, support and long-term planning for unaccompanied children
- Consultation on the cap for safe and legal routes
Current pressures and implementation
Councils have a proud history of welcoming new arrivals, stepping forward at times of crisis to offer homes and support so families and individuals can build new lives in the UK.
Councils are aware of current pressures in the system that the Bill is seeking to address but also continue to highlight significant concerns about capacity to accommodate unaccompanied children and call on the Government for support to expand capacity, with more information on current pressures in the background below.
In advance of any implementation there is an urgent need for joint planning across central and local government, based on realistic projections in terms of intake. This needs to take account of the impacts on local services across current pressures based on a cross cutting approach to all asylum and resettlement schemes which understands the cumulative impact on local areas.
Amendments 31, 33, 35-38 to Clause 10
We support the proposed amendments to Clause 10 by Baroness Mobarik, the Lord Bishop of Durham, Baroness Stroud and Baroness Helic that would retain existing limits on the detention of unaccompanied children.
- We support amendments that children should not be detained in detention accommodation but instead should be supported in more specialist provision that can meet children’s needs and support their wellbeing.
- Unaccompanied children have a right under the Children Act 1989 to live in suitable accommodation for their needs and under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, outlines that “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” (Article 37b)
- This amendment ensures that children are both afforded their rights under the Children Act 1989 and helps to ensure that councils will not have to try to comply with competing sets of legislation as they attempt to fulfil their duties towards children.
- We would welcome further clarity on clarifying the corporate parent role for any children being detained. Councils would welcome also further discussion on key operational issues such as age assessment, reducing the risks of children going missing to avoid detention and removal.
Amendment 50 to Clause 16
We support the amendment to Clause 16 from the Lord Bishop of Durham, Lord Coaker, Baroness Helic and Lord German which limits the Secretary of State’s power to transfer a child out of local authority care and into accommodation provided by the Secretary of State by providing that they may only do so where to do so is necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.
- Whilst we welcome clarification that the powers will not be applied retrospectively, given the remaining greater power to direct councils under the Bill, councils remain concerned that they will be directed to accept responsibility for children without the ability to engage on or influence where these children are placed. Councils must be consulted on and able to influence the location of any accommodation for children to ensure the appropriateness of the location and capacity of local services to support the children placed there. If councils are not engaged in the decision, as has happened in previous hotel procurement, then there is concern that this will be without consideration of local capacity to appropriately support those children, including across social care, health and education services, or without recognition of pressures on individual councils and their partners. This may impact on the safety and wellbeing of children. This would also better reflect the aim of the current National Transfer Scheme for lone children is for councils work with government to ensure that placements are made in a more equitable way to reflects local and regional capacity.
- We have repeatedly highlighted the issue of a lack of sufficiency of placements for children in care, as have a wide range of other organisations and reviews. We would welcome joint work to support councils to expand placement capacity at pace in advance of the Bill’s implementation.
- Councils are also concerned that they will be required to take lone children into care, or to stop caring for a child, without consideration of whether that direction is appropriate for individual children or the need to ensure the appropriate placement of individual children in line with statutory guidance.
- The Bill does not take the opportunity to clarify who is the corporate parent of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children placed in hotels by the Home Office or commit to ending this practice, which the LGA has stressed the need for (Government must take action to end the crisis of unaccompanied children being placed in hotels). Clarification on the corporate parent role is important to ensure clear accountability for the welfare and safety of all children. This is needed as a matter of urgency given anticipated rapid increase in arrivals over the summer and to inform current discussions on potential large sites use given the potential unsustainable impacts on local children services.
- If children are placed in Home Office accommodation, the legislation should clarify that this must be regulated accommodation in line with all other accommodation for children in care.
Amendment 102 to Clause 58
We support the Lords Amendment 102 which requires the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report on details of the safe and legal routes by which persons may enter the UK within six months of Royal Assent. Clause 58 provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying the maximum number of persons who may enter the UK annually using safe and legal routes. Before making such regulations, the Secretary of State is required to consult such representatives of local authorities, and such other persons or bodies as the Secretary of State considers appropriate
- This amendment will give clarity on the potential routes to the UK and the possible support needs of any new arrivals that councils will need to consider as part of the consultation.
- We welcome local government and their statutory partners being engaged well in advance of any new programme to inform both design and delivery given their expertise, statutory duties and responsibility for local delivery. Though this recognition of the impacts on local areas is welcome, local government has raised concerns around being asked to pledge numbers or provide a cap, given the potential reputational and cohesion risks. Councils’ local communities will also have differing views and differing capacity to support new routes to the UK.
- There are also well-recognised issues with forecasting population change and churn both locally, nationally and internationally that will make it difficult for each council to predict potential arrival numbers and their capacity to support them. It is also unclear of the interface with continued central government responsibilities such as border control, issuing visas and decisions.
- We would also welcome clarity on the interface for local assessment of capacity with councils’ role in supporting for lone children under the Bill and potential asks of councils for those being detained, which will include social care and other statutory duties. We would also welcome clarity on whether the safe and legal routes include children.
- We would welcome urgent discussions with government in advance of Bill implementation as the Bill does not outline how this engagement with councils will take place; how councils and their local partners will be supported and funded to ensure needs are met and how widely acknowledged housing challenges tackled.
- We would welcome further discussion on a joined-up approach to all programmes that currently welcome new arrivals to embed a place-based approach well in advance of Bill implementation.
Background – lone children and hotels
The data below provides further detail on the current pressures with regards to councils support for lone children:
- At the start of September 2022 there were still more than 300 children accommodated in 5 hotels. 3,256 children have been housed in hotels between October 2021 and September 2022, with the average length of time spent in a hotel 16.34 days.
- As of 19 October 2022, 222 of these young people had gone, and remained, missing.
- At 31 March 2022, councils were caring for 5,570 UASC. This was an increase of 34 per cent (1,430) on the previous year (though this followed a large decrease of 18 per cent in 2020-21 which was likely caused by the pandemic). 87 per cent (4,870) were 16 and over (source). On the same date, councils were supporting 11,650 former UASC care leavers aged 17-21.
- Transfers via the National Transfer Scheme out of local authorities are as follows:
- 2021 Q3 – 66 children transferred
- 2021 Q4 – 296 children transferred
- 2022 Q1 – 310 children transferred
- 2022 Q2 – 392 children transferred
- 2022 Q3 – 273 children transferred (source)