Open Letter on Afghan Resettlement


Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP
inistry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Fry Building
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF

24 August 2021

Dear Robert,

Following your letter in June, a number of us have risen to the challenge to house Afghans coming to the UK.

The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need. We are pleased that the Government, albeit belatedly, seems willing to go further and admit more Afghan families following the tragic scenes the world has witnessed over the last week. As you know, the UK accepts a very small number of refugees compared to other similar countries and we believe that even more should be done.

As Council Leaders we are keen to help. But, as your department is well aware, there is a huge housing crisis in this country already. Contrary to popular myth, people do not just arrive in the UK and get offered a free house.

There is a desperate shortage of affordable and social-rented housing and, since developers tend to only build small properties for social rent, larger homes to rent are almost non-existent; just a handful per year are available (especially in southern England). We need a long-term commitment to support us to build thousands of social-rent homes.

In the medium-term we need you to lobby the Home Office and Treasury to change Local Housing Allowance rates to something nearer to actual rents. For example, in places around London like Chelmsford or Guildford the LHA rate for a two-bed property is £750-800 a month but actual rents are £1000-1300 a month. For reference, the attached table shows you the Government’s Local Housing Allowance Rates in Chelmsford and the lower quartile, median and upper quartile rents that the Private Rented Sector actually charge.

In the very short-term, to help the Afghan families now arriving, we need you to ensure that the Home Office guarantees an ongoing top-up to meet ALL the costs of housing these new residents i.e. covers actual rent costs not LHA rates. If this doesn’t happen, they risk being stuck in deeply unsatisfactory temporary accommodation. This is very expensive  and some of the costs will fall on local councils (including subsidy loss that we have to cover) unless the Home Office steps in.

All of this assumes we can even find temporary accommodation, which we have to assess as viable before passing on to the Home Office. This, of course, is a further cost to our already overstretched Housing Departments. There are also the wider costs of supporting new arrivals. Most councils have no spare capacity and, as the Syrian scheme showed, support from dedicated council staff is required over years - not short term.

Some of the Afghan families arriving have five, six or more children. Therefore, even if they find a house to rent, they could be caught by the benefit cap and be back in the homelessness system quite quickly.

It would probably save quite a lot of money if they were supported into employment as soon as possible and are then able to look after themselves, as I am sure they would wish. We hope you can press for that too.

In short, Secretary of State, we want to help; we believe that we have a duty to help. But we need your assistance to make it happen.

Yours Sincerley,

Joe Harris
LGA Liberal Democrat Group Leader
Leader of Cotswolds District Council

Bridget Smith
LGA Liberal Democrat Group Deputy Leader
Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council

Chris White
Leader of St Albans City & District Council

Amanda Hopgood
Leader of Durham County Council

Stephen Robinson
Leader of Chelmsford City Council  

Alan Connett
Leader of Teignbridge District Council

Caroline Kerr
Leader of the Royal Borough of Kingston

Keith Aspden
Leader of City of York Council

 

Ruth Dombey
Leader of London Borough of Sutton

Ros Wyke
Leader of Mendip District Council

David Worden
Leader of North Devon Council

Emily Smith
Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council

James MacCleary
Deputy Leader of Lewes District Council

John Boyce
Leader of Oadby & Wigston Borough Council

Jonathan Brook
Leader of South Lakeland District Council

Keith House
Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council

Kevin Guy
Leader of Bath and North East Somerset

Liz Leffman
Leader of Oxfordshire County Council

Lucille Thompson
Leader of Winchester Council

Lucy Nethsingha
Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council

Virginia Taylor
Leader of Eden District Council

Mayor Dave Hodgson
Bedford Borough Council

Mike Bell
Deputy Leader of North Somerset Council

Paul Clark
Leader of North Hertfordshire District Council

Mayor Peter Taylor
Watford Borough Council

Peter Thornton
Deputy Leader of Cumbria County Council

Robin Bradburn
Deputy Leader of Milton Keynes

Rowena Hay
Cheltenham Borough Council

Sarah Butikofer
Leader of North Norfolk

Sarah Nelmes
Leader of Three Rivers District Council

Steve Carr
Deputy Leader of Broxtoe Borough Council

Steve Darling
Leader of Torbay Council

Stuart Bray
Leader of Hinkley and Bosworth Borough Council

Susan Prochak
Deputy Leader of Rother District Council