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Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today that contracts agreed by the Home Office in 2000-01 to provide accommodation for asylum seekers have not always proved value for money. The Home Office’s National Asylum Support Service provides accommodation for asylum seekers who are destitute, or likely to become destitute, while their application is considered. A large increase in the number of asylum applicants requiring support (from 27,800 in March 2001 to nearly 67,200 in March 2003) put significant pressures on NASS to find appropriate accommodation. As a consequence, NASS paid out £439 million for accommodation in 2003-04. Numbers have since declined and NASS has recruited additional staff to improve how it conducts business.

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This report outlines progress made by the Service in re-shaping the way it provides accommodation and what further improvements are required. The main findings of the report are:

The NAO recognises the difficulties NASS faced during the first few years since its establishment as a result of an unprecedented increase in its workload. The report identifies improvements that are already being made by NASS such as transferring more of the risks and responsibilities onto other organisations, reducing the prices it pays for accommodation and putting in place more effective performance monitoring arrangements so that action can be taken when performance is unsatisfactory.

"Providing suitable accommodation for asylum seekers is one of the most complex and difficult tasks facing the government. The National Asylum Support Service was stretched to the limit when the number of asylum seekers in accommodation reached over 67,000 in March 2003. Although the Service managed to deal with this workload, its contracts did not always provide value for money.

"In order to avoid such difficulties in future, it is important that NASS be able to respond more readily to fluctuations in demand. By transferring more of the risks and responsibilities onto its contractors, the Service will be in a better position to monitor performance and take corrective action when there are changes in the number of asylum seekers requiring accommodation."

Sir John


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