Thousands of Afghan refugees who have been living in UK hotels since the Taliban takeover of their country a year ago have been told by the Home Office to look for new accommodation on Rightmove or Zoopla.
On the first anniversary of the fall of Kabul, the government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 Afghans who sought refuge in the UK, with only 7,000 having been rehoused.
While charities welcomed government moves to wind down the use of hotels to house the refugees, they expressed concerns that many would not be able to find suitable accommodation in the private rented sector and risked ending up homeless.
Afghan families with children will struggle to find accommodation large enough and that they can afford using the housing benefit provided. Charities also raised the alarm that refugees may not have the language skills to negotiate their own rental agreements, nor the necessary paperwork, such as passports and bank statements.
Home Office sources say that as well as encouraging Afghan families living in hotels to look for their own housing, they aim to offer each family two choices of accommodation somewhere in the UK, though it is not known if they will be given a choice as to where.
The Home Office said the accommodation offers would be “good, decent proposals”, but that if families rejected the offers a further two months of hotel accommodation would be provided. It is not clear what would happen if the families failed to secure accommodation after that.
Home Office sources say they are trying to encourage Afghan families to move to other parts of the UK such as Wales but this may be difficult for families who are settled in large cities such as London where their children are attending school. Council housing waiting lists are long, especially for larger properties that some Afghan families require because they have three or more children.
Although Afghan families have the right to rent under the immigration rules and landlords can check this using an online tool, some are reluctant to rent to people who do not have a British passport, or evidence of life in the UK such as utility bills and payslips.
A letter sent by the Home Office to Afghan refugees says that not all councils will accept a request to put them on their social housing waiting lists, so urges them to start looking in the private rental sector.
“Not all councils will support you so it’s important to check,” the letters state. They urge the refugees to search for multiple properties to increase their chances of finding somewhere as the UK housing market is “very competitive”.
Eva Tabbasam, the director of Gender Action for Peace and Security, expressed concern about the plans. She said: “Afghan families couldn’t have imagined that one year after arriving they’d still be warehoused in unsuitable accommodation, without space, privacy and stability. There is also a serious risk of homelessness for these families if suitable accommodation is not offered under the current Home Office plans.
“The government has had a year to sort things out – instead, it’s getting worse. If suitable accommodation was readily available for the 9,500 people still in hotels, families would already have been moved into it. We don’t yet know what kind of move on accommodation families will be offered.”
Claire Holland London Councils’ executive member for communities, said: “Boroughs are very concerned by the lack of alternative housing options for these families – a particular challenge in the capital due to the chronic shortage of affordable housing here.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The use of hotels to house those resettling from Afghanistan is a temporary solution, and we continue to work with over 350 local authorities to move Afghan families from hotels to permanent accommodation as quickly as possible.
“To support the resettlement of Afghan families, local authorities are given £20,520 per person over a three-year period. They have the flexibility to use this funding to contribute towards renting accommodation, including deposits, letting fees and furnishing.”