Frequently Asked Questions – People seeking asylum and hotel use in Wigan Borough

Frequently Asked Questions – People seeking asylum and hotel use in Wigan Borough

Update regarding the use of Kilhey Court

Wigan Council received confirmation from central government in late October that Kilhey Court will stop being used to house people seeking asylum.

Who is a person seeking asylum?

An asylum seeker is a person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country but whose application has not yet been concluded.

A person is officially a refugee when they have had their claim for asylum accepted by the government.

Often people seeking asylum have left countries with poor human rights records or with ongoing conflict, looking for safety.

Anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and to remain there until the authorities have assessed their claim.

For more information about the status of those seeking asylum, please visit Refugee Council (external link).

Why are hotels in Wigan Borough being used to accommodate people seeking asylum?

The Home Office (part of central government) has a statutory duty to provide accommodation for those seeking asylum. It has contracts with private sector providers to source this accommodation on its behalf.

The Home Office therefore arranges with private hotel operators to use their sites as emergency accommodation for those seeking asylum.

One location in the borough, The Britannia Hotel in Standish, has been used for this purpose for several years. Another, Kilhey Court, also in Standish, has recently begun preparations to provide similar accommodation.

For more information or to contact the Home Office directly, details can be found on GOV.UK (external link).

Who has made the decision?

The decision to stand-up these contingency hotels is made by the Home Office with the deals struck between them and the private operators. The hotel operators receive a fee from the government.

Local authorities, such as Wigan Council, and partner organisations receive confirmation once the decision has been made.

Local authorities do not have a say in how many people seeking asylum are accommodated in their areas, where they stay or how long they will be staying for. These are decisions made by the Home Office.

In the case of the proposed use of Kilhey Court, the council immediately voiced its concerns about the suitability of the site in a letter to the Home Office.

Read extracts of the letter online.

Wigan Council has no control over where asylum seekers are placed.

How many people seeking asylum will be accommodated at Kilhey Court?

Home Office officials have informed Wigan Council that Kilhey Court will initially house around 120 adult males.

What is being done in reaction?

Wigan Borough has a strong track record of supporting non-UK residents who are vulnerable and in need. We remain committed to supporting such individuals but we have a responsibility to ensure this is done as responsibly and safely as possible.

There are a number of concerns about the site and location of Kilhey Court, and in general, the use of hotels for this purpose.

Our views have been outlined in a statement by the Leader of Wigan Council.

Wigan Council will continue to voice its concerns through appropriate channels and is working alongside ward councillors and local groups to ensure the views of the community are heard.

Any updates will be communicated to residents.

Who is in charge of the hotels?

Serco, a private company, is responsible for the operation of these contingency hotels across the country, under contract from the Home Office.

Any questions about how the hotels are run should be directed to Serco (external link).

Does Wigan Council receive funding for the use of hotels as emergency accommodation?

The hotel operators receive funds from the government to use their sites and therefore it is a commercial decision for them.

Local authorities do receive funds from central government as a contribution to their costs, as they have statutory responsibilities (such as health and care requirements) for everyone living within their areas.

This funding is provided to help mitigate the impact on local services.

More information on how this funding is calculated can be found on the Home Office website (external link).

How does the Home Office choose which hotels will be used? Have they been stopped by legal action?

Local authorities such as Wigan Council are not part of the discussions regarding which hotels will be used to accommodate people seeking asylum.

However, it is understood that certain factors such as location, impact on the local community,  access to amenities and public transport, among others, are considered.

This is why Wigan Council – in similar fashion to neighbouring authorities such as Bolton and Chorley - has outlined why it firmly believes the Kilhey Court location is unsuitable and urged Home Office officials to reconsider.

These reasons are available to view in extracts of Wigan Council's letter to the Home Office.

Residents may have seen examples in the media of local authorities taking a legal route to oppose the use of hotels for emergency accommodation.

Wigan Council has considered all available options regarding whether it could take legal action, including injunctions.

Recent cases have seen councils applying for interim injunctions to stop hotels being used because they have argued that in planning terms the use of the building is being changed from a hotel to a hostel, which could require separate planning permission.

However, High Court Judges declined to extend these injunctions – with Ipswich Borough Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council among those to have been declined.

For more information about this topic and judge’s reasoning on the planning matters, please visit Is planning permission required to house asylum seekers in hotels? (external link).

Does the Standish Neighbourhood Plan have an impact on any potential legal routes?

One council, Great Yarmouth, was successful in its injunction application, due to its existing Local Plan (not a Neighbourhood Plan).

View more information about the role of Local Plans (external link).

However, there are crucial differences in those circumstances compared to the Kilhey Court situation, which we have outlined below.

It is important to note that even if changes are made to Local Plans, they cannot be applied retrospectively to previous decisions.

  • The hotel in Great Yarmouth was on the sea-front and there was a specific policy already in place in the council’s Local Plan. It was designed to help boost tourism providing extra protection for hotels around changes of use
  • There is a Standish Neighbourhood Plan (which has similar status to a Local Plan) but it does not include any policies relating to Kilhey Court
  • Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans can only be amended through strict procedures set by national government, and these can be lengthy
  • This process can differ depending on how significant the changes are. If the changes are significant (for example, introducing a new policy into the plan) it would need to be introduced in the same way as a new plan
  • This would mean consultation, submission, examination and (for Neighbourhood Plans) referendum stages, which could take at least 18 to 24 months
  • However, even if the plan were to be modified, it would not apply to decisions retrospectively. This means that the new amended plan would affect only future decisions, not those that have already been taken by the Home Office.

View Standish Neighbourhood Plan.

Do residents of the hotels receive special access to local health services?

People who are seeking asylum have often been through very traumatic and challenging times, meaning that they have significant physical and mental health needs. 

They may also have come from countries that do not have national health services, or public health services, like ours, which means they may not be up-to-date with the required vaccinations, etc. to keep them and local residents safe. 

It is essential, and required under Home Office guidance, that people seeking asylum are provided with health services to support with these things. 

In Wigan Borough, this is a specialist service which is funded and managed completely separately.  It does not take any services away from local residents.

Has Wigan Borough been specially selected to host asylum seekers?

The borough has hosted asylum seekers since 2000. Where asylum seekers are located is a decision taken by central government. Wigan Council has no control over that policy.

Has a fire safety inspection taken place at the hotel?

Fire safety inspections are instructed by the Home Office as part of their due diligence checks prior to confirming the use of a particular hotel for these purposes.

They are carried out by local fire service authorities, such as Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), ahead of the arrival of residents.

Wigan Council officers are in regular contact with GMFRS counterparts and further spot checks will be carried out at Kilhey Court in due course.

If you would like to express a concern relating to fire safety, contact GMFRS (external link).

Are any measures in place to help with community safety?

It is important to emphasise that any genuine concerns about illegal behaviour should be reported to Greater Manchester Police, as they should in any situation.

We understand that rumours circulating online and on social media can be unsettling and cause concern and apprehension within the community.

Wigan Council officers, including elected ward members, maintain regular contact with police counterparts and will respond accordingly to any matters of genuine public concern.

Please keep an eye out on Wigan Council’s communications channels or those of GMP for regular updates.

As previously stated, any issues or concerns you may have relating to the operational running of the hotels should be directed to Serco, or to the Home Office.

Further information is available on our Asylum Seekers Webpage.

Posted on Friday 8th September 2023

© Wigan Council