Accommodating Asylum Seekers: Legal Issues Arising from the Use of Hotel Accommodation
The current Home Secretary recently told the House of Commons that the asylum system is “broken”. The number of outstanding applications for asylum has risen sharply in the past year. There has been a sustained rise in the number of people crossing the English Channel in boats.
This predicament has led to the widespread use of short-stay accommodation such as hotels and hostels to house asylum seekers, often for long periods of time. It has been reported that there are more than 37,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing UK taxpayers around £5.6m per day.
It is important to remember that asylum is principally a humanitarian issue. Many of those currently residing at hotels and hostels in the UK have experienced, and continue to experience, significant adversity. Around three-quarters of those who claimed asylum last year had their applications approved.
However, the current approach to accommodating asylum seekers also poses several major legal issues for local authorities, especially in relation to overseeing planning enforcement and regulating housing standards:
- Planning enforcement: The use of hotels and hostels to accommodate asylum seekers may amount to a material change of use and a breach of planning control, requiring local planning authorities to consider whether enforcement action is required. Several local authorities have already acted by serving temporary stop notices on hotels or by seeking injunctions under section 187B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to prevent certain uses. Mr Justice Holgate’s high-profile decision in claims brought by Ipswich Borough Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council recently considered and refused applications to continue interim injunctions preventing such use of two hotels (see  EWHC 2868 (KB)).
- Housing licensing, management, and regulation: Local housing authorities tasked with regulating housing standards in their area also face challenges when assessing whether the hotels and hostels used to house asylum seekers are houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), within the meaning of the Housing Act 2004, and if so whether they require a licence under Part 2 or 3 or are subject to other regulatory oversight. The long-term nature of many hotel stays heightens health and safety concerns and underlines the need for effective regulation.
- Public law challenges: Various councils have reportedly considered, or are considering, launching judicial review claims of Home Office decisions to house asylum seekers in particular locations. Similarly, residents have previously brought public law claims against the Secretary of State in relation to the housing of asylum seekers in temporary accommodation at military barracks.
The legal issues associated with accommodating asylum seekers matter not only for local authorities, but for accommodation providers, occupants and local residents alike.
As we move into 2023 and given the number of outstanding asylum applications, local authorities should anticipate the need to continually review their approach in planning and housing contexts. Likewise, both local authorities and hotel owners will need to keep abreast of current legal issues and appraise themselves of relevant advice where necessary.
On 19 January 2023, Kuljit Bhogal will chair a webinar featuring Dean Underwood, Joe Cannon and Jack Barber. Please see further details here.