'Destitute' asylum seekers had iPads and luxury goods, says report by government auditors
National Audit Office finds "indicators of prosperity" in homes provided at the taxpayer's expense to asylum seekers who claimed they were destitute
Home Office claims on asylum seeker removals branded a 'mockery'
Immigration Officers as they stop check vehicles moving through passport control Photo: PA
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By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent
12:01AM GMT 10 Jan 2014
Asylum seekers who claimed they were penniless in order to receive free housing at the taxpayer’s expense were found to own luxury goods including iPads and widescreen televisions, official watchdogs have revealed.
The National Audit Office (NAO) inspected properties provided for asylum seekers and discovered “signs of wealth” among foreigners who had told the government they were destitute.
Auditors carrying out checks on properties across the country were surprised to find some occupants possessed a variety of expensive luxury gadgets.
They carried out 10 visits in each of three regions of the country and found “at least one” address in each area where there were “indications of prosperity”.
If the figure is extrapolated to all 23,000 asylum seekers who are receiving free housing it could mean that 2,000 claimants are more wealthy than they claim to be.
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The report also highlighted how some local councils have complained the government’s decision to house asylum seekers in their area was having a negative impact on school places and community relations.
One local authority in north west England had told Serco, which operates the accommodation on behalf of the Home Office, that it would not accept any more asylum seekers “due to concerns over community cohesion”.
And the local authority in Rotherham, south Yorkshire, had asked G4S, the firm which has the contract in its region, to reduce the number of asylum seekers.
The report said: “The town currently has the highest number of asylum seekers in the region, including higher numbers than Leeds, the biggest city in the area.”
The NAO study said staff working for companies such as G4S and Serco which provide the accommodation had a duty to inform the Home Office about any “destitute” asylum seekers who appeared to have funds at their disposal.
“There is a risk that individuals or families may be occupying properties to which they are not entitled, thus taking resources away from those more in need,” it said.
“Where housing officers see signs of wealth on their regular inspections, indicating that the occupant may have a higher level of income, they have a contractual duty to report this to the relevant authorities in the department within one working day.
“It was clear that the occupants may have a level of income above that expected of someone receiving the minimum level of support.”
An NAO spokeswoman said: “The indicators of them having a level of income above the threshold included things like the inspectors seeing mobile phones, iPads and widescreen televisions.
“We did sample visits in three areas - the north west, Yorkshire and London. In each of these areas we did about 10 visits and in each of these areas we saw at least one occasion where there were indicators of prosperity.”
The latest iPad costs between £399 and £739, while the cheapest iPad mini costs at least £249. A 32-inch widescreen TV would cost £200 to £400, while larger sets can cost many thousands of pounds.
If they meet the criteria for free accommodation, individual asylum seekers also receive an allowance of £36.62 a week and a family of two adults and two children receives an average of £178.44 a week.
The NAO concluded there were shortcomings in the way the housing contracts are operating. It said Serco could be required to pay the Treasury £2 million and G4S between £1.5 million and £2 million for failing to meet targets.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Our providers are required to refer any signs of wealth and support is removed where we have evidence of a personal income. Where possible, we will also seek to recover overpayments and pursue a prosecution.
“The Home Office has a duty to provide accommodation and subsistence support only to those who are destitute.”
He added that there were “no plans” to change the policy of dispersing asylum seekers across the country.
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: "It’s deeply troubling that taxpayer funded support is being wasted on those who appear not to need it.
"Big screen TVs and iPads are an obvious sign that someone isn’t destitute. This should have been picked up on and could have prevented taxpayers’ money being wasted further.
"When contractors fail to live up to their end of the bargain there must be proper financial penalties in place to ensure taxpayers are compensated and firms face proper incentives to deliver what they promised.”
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