Home Office housing support for Afghan refugees must be “full amount” says council leader

The Home Office needs to pay the full cost of housing families fleeing Afghanistan, the leader of Chelmsford City Council has urged.

Five families are currently living in hotel accommodation in the borough after escaping threats posed by the Taliban believed to be poised to seek revenge on those who previously worked for the British Army as interpreters.

A meeting is being set up involving the Red Cross, the Chelmsford CVS volunteers and other agencies to put in place ongoing support for the families.

Councillor Stephen Robinson, leader of Chelmsford City Council, has said the top issue that needs addressing is to find them homes.

Importantly he has said the Home Office need to fund the programme fully – not least to avoid the disconnect that exist between rent levels and the amount available in housing benefit.

For a two bed flat the housing benefit limit stands at £795. While in Chelmsford the rent for a typical two bed home is between £925 and £1250 a month.

The housing benefit limit for a four bedroom home is £1,295. In Chelmsford that size of accommodation typically costs between £1,800 and £2,500 a month.

Cllr Robinson said: “The key thing is the Home Office need to carry on funding this programme properly because there is a gap between the housing benefit limit and actual rents and that is why we urge the Home Office to pay the full amount to cover rents.

“This is the basis around much of the homelessness we see– you can have a family who have a good job that is paying their rent, they lose the job but the housing benefit doesn’t cover the rent.”

Around 80 Afghan interpreters and their families have already arrived in Chelmsford and Colchester.

More Essex districts say they will accept families fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Thurrock Council has written to the Home Office offering to take part in the resettlement programme, while Basildon, Braintree and Rochford councils are identifying suitable housing.

It is unclear whether any more refugees will be accommodated in Chelmsford.

He said: “Most of these families are well educated. They were employed because they speak English.

“Most were interpreters.

“And most being relocated are well educated and keen to settle and live a normal life.

“We don’t know if we should expect more. It depends how many more location around the country can be identified and how many people manage to get out.”

The UK had evacuated 8,458 people from Afghanistan by today (August 24) since August 13, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Of these 5,171 are Afghans eligible for relocation due to their association with the UK government, or who are at risk from the Taliban.

But the UK Government has said that not everyone wanting to leave would be evacuated before the August 31 deadline agreed with the Taliban.

The Government has said additional healthcare provision, access to COVID-19 vaccinations and funding for housing will be provided to support Afghans coming to the UK via the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme.

Councils in England, Scotland and Wales will have access to a share of £5 million to help them provide the necessary housing and support to Afghans who have worked for this country in Afghanistan, but who now face threats of persecution or worse.

It adds the Afghan LES (Locally Employed Staff) Housing Costs Fund will provide a top up to help councils meet the costs of renting properties for those that need it, including larger homes for families.

A statement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Our immediate focus is to evacuate the Afghans who risked their lives supporting us over the past twenty years and to whom we owe so much.

“We are proud to bring them to the UK, and this additional support will help make sure that those arriving from Afghanistan receive the housing and healthcare that they need as they start to build a new life here.

“We will do everything we can in the days, weeks and months ahead to protect the most vulnerable, which is why we’re doubling our humanitarian aid to the region and setting up a new bespoke resettlement scheme to give up to 20,000 of those most in need of refuge here in the UK.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter