NEW FIGURES RELEASED BY THE GOVERNMENT in response to a Parliamentary Question show that thousands of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been placed in hotels since October 2021. This includes 899 children aged just 14 and 15.

These figures come as the report of an inspection by the Independent Chief Inspectors of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) into the use of hotels to house unaccompanied children seeking asylum was published, on 19 October.

This practice operates outside of the legal framework for care in this country. The law says that children not cared for by their parents should be in the care of local authorities. The fact that the report highlights the Home Office’s discomfort with the situation makes it even more shocking that the practice has been continued for so long.

The Refugee Council is extremely concerned by the results of this inspection, which shines a light on the unacceptable situation in hotels. This includes an inadequate response to children’s health needs, a lack of understanding of what the children had experienced and a lack of skill to care for vulnerable children who are worried about their families, their futures and their education.

A serious safeguarding concern was also raised in the inspection, as it found that several members of staff living in the hotels with the children had not been subject to the Disclosure and Barring Service checks that are mandatory for those working with children.

The Refugee Council is calling for urgent action to correct this dangerous approach, which presents a serious safeguarding issue to the vulnerable young people involved. It is asking for the immediate end to the use of hotels, and it is calling for the Department for Education to take a lead and ensure that local authorities are caring for children according to the law.

The figures released by the government in response to the Parliamentary Question show that the use of hotels is continuing, including for children under the age of 16.

The Refugee Council believes the figures are likely to be lower than the actual number of children being housed in hotels, as many children are incorrectly treated and recorded as adults. Last year, the charity’s Age Dispute project, which ensures that children are accepted as such and helps them access their rights, supported the cases of 233 children, 94 per cent of whom the Home Office wrongly judged as adult and housed with other adults. These children had no access to support or education and were at clear risk of abuse and neglect.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “Today’s ICIBI report shows that the government is 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. We echo the report’s recommendation that this practice needs to end. Every effort must be made by government to ensure all children are taken into the care of local authorities as a matter of urgency.

“Our services have seen an overwhelming number of children being housed in hotels. The children we speak to tell us that they feel anxious, scared and lonely in these hotels, and we have grave concerns about their mental and physical health. Hotels are by no means appropriate for children who have fled war, persecution and violence and are often very traumatised. It is simply not acceptable that children seeking asylum are still being accommodated in hotels without councils acting as their corporate parent.”

The ICIBI report showed that some hotels had no outside space and none of them had facilities to cook for the children, nor even provide plates for them to eat their food from. The report also noted poor record keeping and communication, which is particularly worrying when children go missing, as well as poor security, with security guards described as having a “lack of professionalism”.

In addition to the lack of DBS checks, other failings were noted, including poor monitoring of contracts from the Home Office and a lack of job descriptions.

The government has responded to the report, fully accepting only one recommendation, about DBS checks for staff who were living on site. The Home Office has now confirmed that staff should not be residing there and that all staff now have the required levels of checks

The breakdown of ages of unaccompanied children housed in hotels since October 2021 is as follows:

Age14: 260
Age 15: 639
Age 16: 1,191
Age 17: 1,051

* Read the Government’s response to the written question here.

* Read the ICIBI report: An inspection of the use of hotels for housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) March – May 2022 here.

* Source: Refugee Council