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ASYLUM-SEEKERS living in houses run by private profiteers are facing squalor so terrible that their health is at risk, the Morning Star learned today.
Councillors in Sheffield are deploying housing and environmental experts to investigate conditions in 240 houses occupied by asylum-seekers.
The conditions they found were “horrendous,” with some having no heating and hot water for weeks and one living amid destruction caused by a fallen-in ceiling fan. Inspectors said that unsanitary conditions were widespread among the houses.
The councillors have now made it their official policy to take asylum housing back in-house, just four months into their contract with private-sector profiteer Mears Group.
Housing provision for asylum-seekers was privatised nationwide by the Tories in 2012.
The Sheffield asylum housing contract was held by disgraced security firm G4S before it was handed over to Mears in September last year.
At that time, privateers Serco, Clearsprings and Mears took over the Home Office contract for the provision of housing for all 48,000 asylum-seekers awaiting decisions.
The Institute of Race Relations — which this week released a report on the issue — says that Mears consequently became Britain’s biggest refugee landlord, holding three 10-year asylum accommodation contracts from the Home Office totalling £1.15 billion.
The IRR report also describes rat infestations in properties run by contractors, a toilet left blocked for a month and fire alarms found disarmed.
Paul Wood, Sheffield City Council cabinet member for neighbourhoods and community safety, told the Star: “We received a number of calls about some of the properties that were transferred from G4S to Mears.
“There were major defects in some of the properties and I immediately sent in housing and environmental inspectors.
“There are major issues and we have told Mears that repairs must be done with immediate effect.
“We are inspecting all 240 houses involved in the city as quickly as we can get it done.
“We have one where the ceiling fell in onto the next floor, one with no hot water for a number of weeks and another where there were inadequate fire escapes.”
Mr Wood said that the Sheffield asylum-seekers comprised families, young people and single people. They include a group brought out of Syria.
He said that the privateers holding the contracts were driven by profit in ways that a local authority wouldn’t be.
“As a council our main concern is service and compassion. Their main concern is money. It always is.”
He also said that the council would ditch plans to start putting asylum-seekers into former accommodation blocks for students.
“We want to integrate them into our communities,” he said.
Inspections have also been launched in neighbouring Doncaster and Barnsley.
As well taking over asylum-seeker housing in Sheffield, Mears also became responsible for properties in Glasgow last year.
Charities such as Positive Action in Housing raised concerns about the profiteer’s lack of experience in providing asylum-seeker accommodation.
Following the decision by council bosses in Sheffield, the Scottish Refugee Council said that it would be watching the situation closely to monitor Mears’s performance.
A Mears spokesperson said: “Mears became responsible for asylum housing and support in September and we inherited the historic estate.
“We are investing in improving homes and have already replaced over 1,200 properties in the region to improve standards. That programme will continue this year.
“We respond to any issues or concerns that are raised by service users and seek to resolve these as quickly as possible.”
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