No rooms for Syrian refugees in St Albans until after Christmas

PUBLISHED: 19:25 18 November 2015

David Cameron met families at a refugee camp in Lebanon. Photo: Crown copyright. Photographer: Georgina Coupe via www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov

David Cameron met families at a refugee camp in Lebanon. Photo: Crown copyright. Photographer: Georgina Coupe via www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov

Crown copyright

St Albans will not be able to offer housing to Syrian refugees before Christmas, despite generous locals offering spare bedrooms.

The Home Office is resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees across the UK with the help of local authorities.

St Albans district council (SADC) is keen to support 10 refugees a year for up to five years but a scrutiny committee was told on November 5 that refugees could not be accommodated until the Home Office approves a bid for funding.

Rebecca Hillman, principal policy and development officer, said the council was keen to work with neighbouring local authorities to put forward a strong bid, “because if we can get 50 refugees [10 in five areas] that means our bid to the Home Office is more likely to be successful, and we are likely to be able to ask for a support worker to work on the project”.

Rebecca said that while some authorities were already well advanced with preparing bids for funding, SADC was not in a position to house refugees by Christmas.

By offering accommodation to 50 refugees, spread across five districts and boroughs, the Home Office would apparently be more likely to consider such a joint bid as financially viable, and therefore approve funding.

Councillors were told that Watford and Welwyn Hatfield borough councils “are very keen to work with us” and officers at the district council are also ‘hopeful’ that authorities representing Dacorum, Three Rivers and Hertsmere will join the bid.

SADC has agreed to house refugees in the private rented sector, and has already sent information to the Department for Communities and Local Government on housing costs.

However, a call for self-contained accommodation for refugees seems to have attracted a muted response so far.

Rebecca explained: “We have had a few responses from private landlords who are charging very high rents, way above the local housing allowance.

“And although there is some room for topping up rents above the local housing allowance, these have been far in excess of the housing allowance, by about £500 a month.”

While locals have generously offered spare rooms in their homes to house refugees, the council cannot pursue this as the Home Office will only support self-contained accommodation.

Rebecca said SADC hoped to submit a bid in the New Year, but that was dependent upon its success in having other authorities in Hertfordshire joining the bidding process.

After the meeting Cllr Simon Grover said: “The key issue with accommodation is that the Home Office will not let refugees stay in spare rooms because they are vulnerable people, so it has to be self-contained.”

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