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Asylum accommodation allocation policy changed to include people previously deemed unsuitable for the Bibby Stockholm, ex-Ministry of Defence sites and room sharing


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The Home Office has updated its “Allocation of asylum accommodation” guidance so that a list of people who were previously excluded from the Bibby Stockholm, Napier and the other ex-Ministry of Defence sites and from having to share a bedroom, can now be accommodated in these places. The euphemism being used for these sites is “alternative non-detained accommodation options” (I prefer quasi-detention). This is version 11 of the guidance, here is an archived version 10 and here is a side-by-side comparison of the two versions. I have set out the main changes below.

What has changed

Notable changes include the removal of the following under the heading “Ethnic group”: “The Home Office provides accommodation in areas which generally have established ethnic minority communities and where voluntary and community infrastructures are in place”. A similar change has been made under the heading “Religion”.

In the section on people receiving treatment from Freedom from Torture or the Helen Bamber Foundation, the guidance now says that where the person is awaiting assessment “consideration” instead of “strong consideration” will be given to providing accommodation near the centre. It also now says that this will be considered only where face to face appointments are necessary. The guidance also states that consideration should be given to payment of reasonable travel expenses for people to attend appointments in these circumstances.

Previously, the position was that people being treated by these organisations “should not be required to share bedrooms with unrelated adults” but this now just refers to the general suitability criteria on room sharing at page 17 of the guidance instead (see below).

Also removed from the new version of the guidance is a statement that the organisation should not be asked to explain why self-contained accommodation is required for the person they are supporting, and that the case should not be referred to the Home Office Medical Adviser. So both of these are now presumably an option.

Suitability criteria

The previous version of the suitability criteria had set out a long list of criteria that would mean a person was not suitable to be accommodated at Napier, the ex-Ministry of Defence sites, the Bibby Stockholm and/or room sharing. Now, there are only two groups who are unsuitable for this, those with a positive reasonable grounds (first stage) trafficking decision and those being dealt with by the Foreign National Offenders – Returns Command.

The longer list is now under criteria that “may” make people unsuitable for those types of accommodation, “depending on whether those needs can be met at the accommodation”. This includes disabled people, those who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, people with complex health needs including active tuberculosis and other infectious/active communicable diseases, people receiving NHS specialised psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic disease, HIV and serious mental health issues where there is a high risk of suicide, serious harm or risk to others.

These are the people that the Home Office now considers can be sent to the Bibby Stockholm or RAF Wethersfield, among other places. The suitability decisions will be made either by Home Office caseworkers or by Home Office accommodation providers.

There is a very heavy evidential burden for people on the above list to meet, in order to show that they “may” be unsuitable for the accommodation, particularly bearing in mind that there is a very good chance that they will not have a lawyer to help them:

Where possible, individuals should provide one or more of the following pieces of verifiable expert or professional evidence (based on considerations set out below) in order to support their claim for unsuitability:

• a healthcare record, which may include information about an individual’s diagnosis, treatment, hospital admissions, and any risk assessment based on the individual’s current needs

• evidence of ongoing treatment which would be interrupted by a move to new accommodation

• personalised assessments and/or psychiatric evidence setting out their specific, individual needs, completed by expert healthcare or medical professionals

This may be supported by documentation from support services or verifiable, expert or professional healthcare practitioners. Documentation provided without supporting evidence from one of the above carries less weight and should generally not be accepted alone as evidence of unsuitability.

If the person somehow manages to meet the evidential burden, the Home Office decision maker can then refer to its own medical advisers for their expert opinion. This is a cause for concern in itself given what we know of other medical experts they use, including in asylum accommodation cases.

If, despite all of these hurdles, the decision maker agrees that they have special needs, the next stage of the process is to consider whether those needs can be in the proposed accommodation.

Another change, relating only to the Bibby Stockholm, is that people cannot be moved there until they have been in the UK for at least eight weeks.


The author of the guidance goes to great lengths to explain that actually it is fine to accommodate people who may have been tortured in military sites and that the appearance of the sites will not “alone give rise to significant health effects”. Wethersfield and Scampton are described as being “within a mature, mainly open and verdant setting with some distinctive historic character” (my link in there, not theirs).

Contrast this with the two suicide attempts that we know about at Wethersfield in January alone and the evidence from clinicians of the harm caused by the use of the site. Similar evidence exists for other sites. There is very good reason that the listed groups were definitively excluded from these harmful types of accommodation in the previous guidance and these changes will inevitably result in further avoidable tragedies.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.