"There is a forgotten, nay almost forbidden word,
which means more to me than any other.
That word is ENGLAND." - Sir Winston Churchill
Saturday, December 12, 2015
Secret Home Office plan means YOU could wake up next door to asylum seekers' hostel
FAMILY homes are being snapped up by government contractors and quickly transformed into temporary hostels for asylum seekers in closed-door deals with local authorities, Express.co.uk can reveal.
GETTY The HMO will take refugees by homing them in family homes similar to the ones shown
Serco, one of three firms contracted by the Home Office to provide housing for asylum seekers, secures leases on properties in residential areas before splitting them into houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) without needing any prior public consultation.
They are then used as "dispersal addresses" where asylum seekers stay a few days or weeks while applications are processed.
Neighbouring residents are often among the last to hear about the changes and only once they have been approved in PRIVATE by local councils, it has emerged.
Serco, Clearsprings and G4 are housing asylum seekers across the country for the Home Office under the multi-million pound COMPASS contract.
In one case, in Audenshaw, near Manchester, it was only when residents asked builders converting a garage into an extra room at a property in their road for Serco that they found out.
The contractors revealed it would soon be temporary accommodation for five single males newly arrived from war-torn Syria.
By capping occupants at five and renting properties rather than buying, Serco avoids public records of the conversions and is able to avoid submitting full planning or HMO licence applications, both of which would involve public consultation.
EXPRESS•LISAEVANS The property (pictured) has had a garage converted into an HMO room for asylum seekers
EXPRESS•LISAEVANS Margeurita Evans wants to live out her remaining days at the family home
ITV Lisa EvansLisa Evans, 46, was stunned to be told by builders working on the house next door to her mother's in Porlock Avenue, it would soon house male asylum seekers.
She lives there with mum Margeurita Evans, 78, who has severe dementia and can no longer walk, but is determined to live out her final days in the home where she raised her family.
Ms Evans said: "I was woken up at 7am by all this banging. I looked out and saw six door bells next door.
"They said they were turning the garage into a bedroom.
"The builder told me rooms were for five single men from Syria."
She said she contacted Tameside Council and received conflicting accounts, first being told it had planning permission, then that none was required.
She said: "Mum sleeps on the ground floor so they will be overlooking her.
EXPRESS•LISAEVANS The bells (ringed) are only just visible from the street
EXPRESS•LISAEVANS The new split doorbells were the first sign for residents of the secret changes
EXPRESS Home from home: The HMO was ready to be occupied when neighbours learned of it"I'm heartbroken. No one consulted us. They were just going to move them in before we got the MP involved.
"I live in the real world and know the problems these places can bring. All the properties round here will be devalued.
"People deserve to know what's going on."
Serco only agreed to postpone the moving in date after the area's MP Andrew Gwynne wrote to the firm.
Mr Gwynne said: "Setting aside the end use any kind of over occupancy of a small residential property is bang out of order.
"There is not enough space and they are cramming as many beds as possible into a small property.
"In terms of the end use, I just think it is an extremely insensitive way to go about it."
The Labour MP said the location was unsuitable for the asylum seekers as there were no similar communities nearby and it was cut off from services.
"I have made it quite clear I do not expect to see it used for that purpose and am taking it up with the Home Secretary."
EXPRESS•LISAEVANS Lisa and Margeurita Evans at their home
EXPRESS•LISAEVANS Mrs Evans seniors' room now overlooks the hostel
The property is owned by Paul and Tracey Booth, a husband and wife property investment team.
On their business website United Property Investments the couple explain how to make "guaranteed rent for five years" of £14,300 to £16,640 a year by buying a home or shop to convert into five-room HMOs.
Mrs Booth said: "We followed all correct proceedures, including getting building regulations, and Tameside Council does not require a lawful development certificate as some councils do. Serco has a job to do as we do."
A "dwelling house" can be converted into an HMO for up to six people with shared kitchen and bathroom without a planning application.
National planning guidance suggests a lawful development certificate application should be made, meaning residents would still have known before the plan was approved.
No such application was made in this case, and the council would not comment on this.
Garages can be converted into residential without a change of use application, if it involves no external changes, so Serco did not need to submit one.
However, the work needed to meet building regulations, a process without public consultation.
Council records show the building regulations application was made after the work was completed and approved the same day.
As Serco rents from the Booths, its name does not appear on Land Registry title deeds available to the public.
EXPRESS•LISAEVANS Porlock Avenue is a quiet street of about 12 homes, many occupied by the elderly
Any HMO with five or more residents over three stories would need to be licensed by the local council, but in this case, with five occupants over two floors, none was required.
Companies wishing to open such hostels have to consult with local councils, police and fire services, but this is not a public process.
Express.co.uk understands the council approved Serco's plan for the building around three months ago.
After discovering the plan two weeks ago, residents "gatecrashed" a local district councillors' surgery and raised it as urgent.
Tameside Council used the "gatecrashing" incident as an example of residents being able to raise concerns, even though it was several weeks after the decision was made.
Residents suspect another house in nearby Manchester Road is also being eyed up for asylum seekers.
A planning application to convert it into an eight-room hostel was refused last month on grounds of "over intensive use of the property" and the "detrimental impact on neighbours due the comings and goings of eight unconnected individuals”.
Neighbours fear the plans will resurface as a six-room hostel after workmen were seen there last week.
EXPRESS•SDOHERTY Building work ongoing at another property set for use as an HMO
A council spokesperson said: "This application (Porlock Avenue) was discussed in detail at a local district (councillors') assembly.
"This gave local people an opportunity to raise their concerns which have subsequently been thoroughly investigated.
"We have inspected the property in response to the detail of concerns raised by local residents and are confident that the property is suitable and there are no issues with fire safety or drainage.
"We are committed to doing all we can to support national efforts to help refugees while being sensitive to the needs of our communities.
“The arrangement is private between Serco and the Home Office.
"The council and police have identified no grounds on which to raise an objection to the use of this property as there is no evidence of hate crime issues, problems with access to services or unsuitability. “
The Home Office refused to say why it did not ensure public consultations took place over such properties.
A spokesperson confirmed it keeps a register of them across the country, but refused to say how many were planned.
They said: "The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection, and we are committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while applications are considered.
AndrewGwynne MP Andrew Gwynne
“Contractors are required to work closely with local authorities. That includes ensuring properties meet housing standards, licensing and any planning requirements, and that any impact on local services and community cohesion is carefully considered.”
Serco said the ongoing migrant crisis meant it was housing more asylum seekers than ever and it kept council officers, not councillors, informed.
Jenni Halliday, Serco’s director for Compass, said: “Serco uses a variety of properties in the North West to accommodate asylum seekers in our care.
"They are all approved in advance by the local authority.
"We have 100 per cent compliance to statutory licencing.
"We fully understand both the challenges that local communities face and how vulnerable these people can be and routinely consult local authorities and the Home Office about accommodation needs."
The process mirrors a situation in 2008 when Clearsprings was buying up homes in the same way to covert them to small bail hostels with no public consultation before the system was slammed by MPs in Parliament.
Has the Home Office opened an asylum hostel near you or is one being planned? email reporter Jon Austin on email@example.com.