Towards a new Irish housing system for asylum seekers and refugees

29 March 2021 Consultancy.uk 9 min. read

With the aim of bridging the gap between the recommendations of the Advisory Group Report published in October 2021 and the Government White Paper, the Irish Refugee Council commissioned Campbell Tickell to explore the transition from Direct Provision to a new system of housing for people seeking protection and refugees. 

The research focusses exclusively on developing new models and approaches for housing those seeking sanctuary and refuge in Ireland. Based on the views of key stakeholders, including those with lived experience of the current system, the 76-page report from Campbell Tickell concludes that the present arrangements for housing and support “do not work well, either for asylum seekers themselves or for those operating within the current Direct Provision system.”

Liz Zacharias, a Director at Campbell Tickell said: “By transitioning to a new approach, Ireland has the potential to create a far better system of support for asylum seekers and refugees who are seeking to build a new life in Ireland, away from persecution, ill treatment, war and conflict,” she added.

The analysis

The analysis by Campbell Tickell and the Irish Refugee Council addresses and answers five critical questions and challenges: 

Models
What models of accommodation delivery can be used to meet the aim of ending Direct Provision and congregated settings? What are the advantages and disadvantages of those models and what ownership, build and management structures do they have? 

Transition and Timing
How do we transition to those models? What has to occur for them to become live and at what point do they start to deliver accommodation? 

Management and Control
Who should have responsibility for protection accommodation? Who should commission and procure accommodation? Who manages accommodation and how should models be funded?

Exiting Direct Provision
What strategy should be used to wind down Direct Provision? 

Risk Analysis
What risks are associated with each model and this wider policy challenge?

Overall, the analysis found that the present arrangements for housing and support “do not work well, either for asylum seekers themselves or for those operating within the current Direct Provision system,” said Liz Zacharias, a Senior Consultant at Campbell Tickell. 

“By transitioning to a new approach, Ireland has the potential to create a far better system of support for asylum seekers and refugees who are seeking to build a new life in Ireland, away from persecution, ill treatment, war and conflict,” she added.

Headline recommendations

A round-up of the report’s key findings and recommendations: 

Who should have responsibility for protection accommodation?
The responsibility should stay with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) in the short term. In the longer-term responsibility should move to Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) when certain indicators are met. 

This is a housing policy issue and it belongs in the government department with oversight of housing policy in Ireland. 

The accommodation of people seeking protection and refugees should be included in national and local housing development plans, regional spatial strategies and in the mandate of the Land Development Agency. 

Three stage accommodation process
We agree with the ‘three stage’ accommodation process recommended by the Advisory Group. Approximately 875 Stage 1 reception ‘spaces’ will be needed if the Stage 1 process is kept to a minimum of three months and the number of protection applications remains at 3,500 per year or below. As the Advisory Group Report recognises, this could be a significant pressure point upon which other parts of the accommodation system fails. 

What models of accommodation should be used
Rather than using a single model, a blend of models should be used. There are risks with using different models, principally the challenge of co-ordinating and monitoring the implementation.

However, there are also significant advantages and a lack of accommodation requires a multi stream approach. A variety of streams will be needed to meet the demand for accommodation. Some streams can mobilise more quickly than others. 

As far as possible ‘new’ accommodation supply models should be pursued so that supply is not drawn from existing sources. However, all actors, including the DHLGH must accept that some existing supply will have to be used for this purpose. Accepting, and ultimately supporting this is an important part of moving protection accommodation in to mainstream housing policy into the future. While we dispute some of the observations of the DHLGH about the Advisory Group report, it makes valid points around the possible lack of capacity in the private rented sector and the need to identify new streams of accommodation supply. 

New modes of accommodation need to be brought on stream by mid-2021. Reflecting the need for urgent momentum, several accommodation pilots should be committed to build the momentum required over 2021.

Models of accommodation
Very precise and particular approaches should be used to trigger the implementation of each model of accommodation. This report gives some guidance on how each model could proceed. However, there will be a need for specific implementation plans for each model. 

The introduction of new models of accommodation should commence as soon as possible and not wait for the existing protection backlog to be reduced. 

Various existing urban and town and vacant property regeneration and renewal policies could be used to either accommodate people or be used by bodies that are accommodating people such as AHBs.

The non-profit aim of the Programme for Government should guide the process. However, in the short term (2021 and 2022) in particular, it is unrealistic for this to be the sole model for delivery.

Swift implementation of independent inspections and National Standards may mitigate the perceived risks (e.g. variable quality of accommodation) of a for-profit approach. 

For a ‘mainstream’ approach (merging protection and housing policy and practice) to be viable, it requires a homelessness prevention policy and implementing infrastructure that works and a well-functioning housing market, able to meet the housing needs of all people effectively. Neither of these two essential building blocks are in place at the moment.

The role of local authorities
While local authorities should be involved in this process, particularly in the longer term, significant doubts remain as to whether they are best placed to manage the delivery of accommodation. We suggest an approach involving regional ‘Accommodation Committees’ to identify needs and commission accommodation. This model aims to include local authorities, but does not place sole responsibility on them for addressing accommodation issues - rather they facilitate the sharing of responsibilities across several stakeholders. 

In the shorter term, there is a risk that the question of whether local authorities should deliver accommodation is a distraction; the focus should be on identifying streams of accommodation and bringing them online as soon as possible. 

Control and commissioning
Who controls the model(s) of accommodation is a critical question. Any new approach will require agility and dynamism, particularly around procurement. Government track record on procuring public housing is relatively poor. Control could be with a single body or spread across different models. Models will exist independently and some may only bring supply online in the medium term. 

A Programme Management Office (PMO) style body, at arms length from central government but reporting to it, should be considered to manage the implementation accommodation. 

Funding, value for money and costs
It is essential that there are sufficient financial resources – capital and current - allocated for the whole term of this reform programme from 2021.

A 5-year capital funding allocation is needed for protection accommodation. 

There will be a period of considerable spend increase as capital investment increases and legacy contractual arrangements are wound down, and therefore total public spending in this area will actually increase in the short term.

Strategy to wind down Direct Provision
There should be a clear strategy to end Direct Provision: focussing on closing emergency accommodation by the end of 2021, not renewing Direct Provision contracts when they expire and ensuring that all new applicants from mid-2021 are channelled towards the new system. 

Advisory Group recommendations and ‘whole system’ approach
The swift implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Group are crucial, in particular around reducing processing times and the ‘case processing’ recommendation so that as few people as possible are brought across from the old system to the new. 

Approximately 2,895 people could possibly benefit from the ‘case processing’ recommendation (See Advisory Group paragraph 6.2) with a path being laid for them to leave Direct Provision. However, this case processing process scheme will take time to implement and then a further period of time for people to move out of Direct Provision. 

Creating a new system with no starting population is a completely different proposition than a new system that begins with the approximately 7,000 people. 

Zacharias concluded, “We hope that the report and the approaches we have proposed will be considered seriously by government. We believe these have the potential to create a far better system of support.”