Local government would welcome discussions with Government on potential impacts on councils of the Illegal Migration Bill. The Second Reading of the Bill will take place in the House of Lords on 10 May 2023.
Local government would welcome discussions with government on potential impacts on councils of the Bill including:
- changes to the current asylum system including powers of detention and consultation on the resettlement cap
- accommodation and support for unaccompanied children.
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. The Bill adds extra complexity to areas seeking to manage pressures on local services, community cohesion or community tensions as a result of asylum and resettlement accommodation.
Councils are aware of current pressures in the system that the Bill is seeking to address. There is a parallel need for joint planning to help ensure we can be ahead of the same pressures next year, based on realistic projections in terms of intake. This needs to take account of the impacts on local services of the streamlined decision-making process. There is a clear need for a cross cutting approach to all asylum and resettlement schemes which understands the cumulative impact on local areas.
1. Changes to the asylum system
Clause 10: Powers of detention
This makes provision for the detention of people liable to removal to their home country or a safe third country
The location of large-scale detention centres would have very significant local implications and so, as with currently proposed large sites, local government and their statutory partners should be engaged well in advance of decisions on potential locations. Those decisions should take account of a shared risk assessment, clarity on funding and put in place a community engagement process.
Clause 58: Cap on number of entrants using safe and legal routes
This places a duty on the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying an annual number of persons to be admitted to the UK through safe and legal routes and to provide an update to Parliament if that number was exceeded and why.
Subsection 2 requires the Secretary of State to consult representatives of local authorities in the UK and other people or organisations the Secretary of State considers appropriate. This consultation will determine capacity to accommodate and provide integration services for the persons to be resettled each year, with this to remain in place until revised by subsequent regulations. However, under subsection 3 this duty to consult will not apply in cases of humanitarian emergency. Subsection 4 requires the consultation with local authorities and other relevant persons or bodies to commence within three months from Royal Assent.
The Bill does not outline how this engagement will take place. We would welcome further discussion on how the engagement process will operate and how councils will be funded for any new routes to the UK
We would encourage other local services being consulted given the impacts on local partners such as health, schools and the community, faith and voluntary sector
Though the 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 cohesion risks and the well-recognised issues with forecasting population change and churn both locally, nationally and internationally.
Although consultation is not required in response to an emergency, local government and their statutory partners should still be engaged well in advance of any new programme to inform both design and delivery given their expertise, statutory duties and responsibility for local delivery.
2. Accommodation and support for unaccompanied children
Clause 2: Duty to make arrangements for removal
This places a duty on the Secretary of State to make arrangements for the removal of people from the United Kingdom when they arrive without leave to enter on or after 7 March 2023, where they have come from a "safe” country immediately prior.
The detention and removal of families may act as driver for children previously travelling within their families to claim asylum as lone children on arrival in the UK and in turn further increase numbers that need to be taken into care.
Clause 3: Unaccompanied children etc.
This clarifies that the Secretary of State is not required to remove a person from the United Kingdom while they are an unaccompanied child, though they retain the power to do so. Children would be removed when they turned 18, in line with Clause 2 of the Bill.
In requiring the removal of children as soon as they turn 18, it is not clear how the Bill is compatible with other legislation, in particular the Children Act 1989 and associated guidance. This stresses the importance of consideration of the wishes and feelings of the child, and the need to operate in their best interests. Guidance also requires councils to plan for permanence for children, including developing relationships and ensuring children have a sense of security, commitment and belonging.
We are also concerned that the Bill may be incompatible with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the UK is a signatory, in particular Article 3 (best interests of the child), Article 12 (respect for the views of the child), Article 22 (refugee children) and Article 39 (recovery from trauma and reintegration).
This incompatibility would place councils in the position of trying to comply with two competing sets of legislation as they attempt to fulfil their duties towards children.
Clause 15: Accommodation and other support for unaccompanied migrant children
This provides a power to the Secretary of State to provide, or arrange to provide, accommodation and other support to unaccompanied migrant children in England. The Bill clarifies that the Secretary of State is currently not in the position of corporate parent to any unaccompanied child given the Home Office does not have and therefore cannot discharge duties under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989. It states that the Home Office has always taken the view that these children should be in local authority care and that it is for the local authority where an unaccompanied child is physically located to consider its duties under the Children Act 1989.
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 for1. Clarification on the corporate parent role is important to ensure clear accountability for the welfare and safety of all children.
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.
Councils would welcome further discussion on key operational issues such as age assessment, reducing the risks of children going missing to avoid detention and removal or as a result of being trafficked, and clarifying the corporate parent role for children in detention.
Councils must be consulted on and able to influence the location of any Home Office accommodation for children to ensure the appropriateness of the location and capacity of local services to support children. If councils are not engaged in the decision, as has happened in previous hotel procurement, then it should be clarified that the Home Office will take responsibility for keeping those children safe and supporting their wellbeing.
Clause 16: Transfer of children from Secretary of State to local authority and vice versa
This provides power to the Secretary of State to direct a council to receive a child or to cease looking after a child.
The Bill strengthens government’s powers to direct councils. Councils are 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.
Councils are also concerned that they will be directed to accept responsibility for children (including large numbers of children in Home Office accommodation) without the ability to engage on or influence where these children are placed, and without consideration of local capacity to appropriately support those children including social care, health and education services.
This clause offers no recognition of pressures on individual councils or the need to ensure the appropriate placement of individual children in line with statutory guidance. We have also 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. This clause fails to address the underlying challenges in the system.
Clause 55: Decisions relating to a person’s age
As brought from the Commons, this removes the right of people to appeal age assessment decisions including where these are not made by social work professionals.
A recent Freedom of Information request to councils found that in 2022, 70 councils reported at least 867 children being identified in adult asylum accommodation as a result of inaccurate age assessments at port2. This carries significant safeguarding implications for children where they are being placed with unrelated, unknown adults without access to the support that unaccompanied children are entitled to under the Children Act 1989. We therefore seek clarification as to how children will be safeguarded should this clause remain in the Bill.
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 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (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 to 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).