Home Office effectively running ‘unregistered children’s homes’ as figures reveal thousands in hotels

The Home Office is effectively running “unregistered children’s homes”, a watchdog warned after figures revealed thousands of lone migrant children have been living in hotels after arriving in the UK.

Chief inspector of borders and immigration David Neal gave the Government department until the end of the year to come up with a plan to stop using hotels to house migrants after he found “limited evidence of progress on a concrete exit strategy” from the policy.

It comes as the Government said 3,256 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children – known as UASCs – arrived in hotels since the start of October last year. Almost 900 were under the age of 16, the provisional data suggests.

The total figure is likely to be higher as the information provided does not include those already placed in hotels before that period.

The information, published in response to a parliamentary question and taken from a routinely updated “live operational database”, said lone migrant children spent an average of 16 days in the hotels which are in Kent, Brighton and Hove, East Sussex and Warwickshire council areas.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) report said the Home Office is “effectively operating unregistered young people’s homes” and the conditions were not a “long-term answer”.

Mr Neal added: “The position the Home Office finds itself in, running unregistered children’s homes, is one that staff and stakeholders alike have found uncomfortable. This is clearly not a space the Home Office wants, or should be operating in.”

The report said it is “most notable” that neither the Home Office nor councils where hotels are located “hold statutory responsibility for these young people”.

An entry to a “risk register”, published in the report, said the Government was informed it was breaking the law more than a year ago.

The entry, dated August 2021, said: “[Senior Civil Servant] confirmed we are running a childrens homes [sic] and committing a criminal offence but relying on the defence of necessity. The mitigation is to stop doing this … Advice is going to ministers.”

In another entry, the Home Office stated there was a risk the plan to end the use of hotels to house lone child migrants “may not achieve the outcome in time for intake surges in spring”.

Under a heading of “implications”, it said: “Continued legal and statutory responsbility [sic] that LA may not take back and HO continues to run UASC hotels without any statuory [sic] responsibility… 9th Sept we will be breaking the law and continung [sic] to run unregulated children’s homes and continuing to expose HO to illegal activity, burnout and trauma.”

Children told inspectors they were happy and felt safe in the hotels, but the majority were “very keen to move on and start their education”.

“Staff across the hotels told inspectors that the young people persistently asked when they would be moved on from the hotel, and that this was a source of ongoing anxiety,” the report added.

Another area of “significant concern” raised in the report were two cases of staff residing at the hotels who had not been vetted by the Disclosure and Barring Service.

The Refugee Council expressed alarm over the findings and called for an immediate end to the use of hotels to accommodate children.

The charity’s chief executive Enver Solomon (pictured) said the Government was “clearly failing in its duty to safeguard children and it has no proper long-term plan for improving its operations and how it deals with unaccompanied children.

“Every effort must be made by Government to ensure all children are taken into the care of local authorities as a matter of urgency.”

Among four recommendations, Mr Neal told the Home Office they must “develop and begin delivering a viable and sustainable exit strategy from the use of hotels” within six months.

The report, published on Wednesday, was sent to then home secretary Priti Patel on June 9 and should have been made public by August 4.

The Home Office said: “We accept the recommendation and will continue to work closely with the Department for Education and Local Authorities to build capacity to avoid the ongoing need for contingency accommodation as quickly as possible.”

The department was “committed to ensuring the safety of all young people within the hotels” and all adults working directly with the child migrants have been subject to enhanced DBS checks, with those working on the hotel sites having DBS clearance, it said.

A Government spokeswoman added: “The wellbeing of children in our care is our absolute priority.

“The rise in dangerous small boats crossings means there are significant challenges on local authority care places.

“The Government has had no alternative but to urgently use temporary hotels to give unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the UK a roof over their heads.

“We know we must do more and we are determined to stop the use of hotels for children.

“To do this we are working round the clock with councils across the UK to increase the number of long-term care placements available.”

The findings come as the RNLI laid bare the harrowing experiences faced by lifeboat crews as they rescue migrants from the Channel.

Government figures show 502 migrants arrived in the UK on 12 boats after crossing the Channel on Tuesday, taking the provisional total for the year so far to 37,570.

Meanwhile, an 31-year-old Albanian woman suspected of helping migrant crossings take place was arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration during a raid in Banbury, Oxfordshire, on Wednesday morning, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

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