Background to the report

The Home Office is responsible for asylum and protection in the UK, including ensuring compliance with the UK’s legal commitments. It is responsible for supporting destitute people seeking asylum while it makes a decision on their asylum claim by providing financial support and accommodation. Since 2020, the number of people claiming asylum in the UK has increased. In the 12 months to December 2023, the Home Office received 67,300 applications for asylum, nearly double the number received in 2019. By December 2023, because of the increased number of applications and a period without a corresponding increase in decisions, about 95,300 applications (representing 128,800 people) were awaiting a decision.

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The Home Office supports people who are destitute until their claim has been resolved, and so the increasing number of applications has meant the Home Office has required more accommodation. The Home Office tries to source ‘dispersal accommodation’, which is usually houses or flats in residential areas in local authorities, but greater competition for rented accommodation and rising rental prices has made this harder. Instead, the Home Office has increasingly used hotels as a contingency measure. By December 2023, it was providing accommodation for around 106,500 people, including 45,800 in hotels.

Increased demand and greater use of hotels has meant costs for asylum support (which covers accommodation costs, grants to local authorities and weekly subsistence payments) have increased. In the financial year to March 2024, the Home Office expects to spend £4.7 billion on asylum support, including £3.1 billion on hotels. The Home Office has stated that it intends to reduce the number of hotels it is using and reduce costs to the taxpayer. As part of this, it is identifying alternatives to hotels, such as vessels or ex-military bases (large sites) for single adult males, increasing room-sharing in hotels and increasing the amount of dispersal accommodation.

Scope of the report

This investigation was prepared in response to public and parliamentary concerns about the Home Office’s plans to accommodate people seeking asylum. In this report we set out the facts about the Home Office’s plans and actions to reduce the use of hotels and the costs to the taxpayer. We have focused our work on the Home Office’s efforts to set up ‘large sites’, but we also cover plans to increase room-sharing and dispersal accommodation. The report sets out:

  • the demand for asylum accommodation and how this has changed over the last few years
  • the Home Office’s efforts to reduce hotel use
  • the costs and expected savings from large sites
  • the approach to delivering large sites
  • future plans

This investigation does not seek to evaluate the efforts by the Home Office to reduce the number of people seeking asylum in the UK, or to conclude on the value for money of the Home Office’s procurement and management of asylum accommodation. It also has not assessed the quality or suitability of the Home Office’s accommodation.


The Home Office has made progress in its plan to reduce the use of hotels to accommodate people seeking asylum. But, in rapidly progressing its plans to establish large sites, it has incurred nugatory spending and increased risk. The site at Scampton is yet to open, and Wethersfield and the Bibby Stockholm are accommodating far fewer people than originally planned. It appears inevitable that, collectively, these early sites will now cost more than the alternative of using hotels.

The Home Office’s plans to develop a coherent strategy for the type and quantity of accommodation it needs are welcome, but it will need to build in flexibility, because of the inherent difficulty of predicting the number of people who might choose to seek asylum, and the uncertainty created by the implementation of the Illegal Migration Act. It should also reflect on the lessons from its attempts to establish accommodation at large sites and work in a coordinated way with central and local government, particularly given the wider pressures on available housing.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (20 Mar 2024)

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