The Home Office is spending £500,000 a day on 5,000 empty hotel beds as a “buffer” for higher than expected migrants crossing the Channel, a senior official has revealed.
Simon Ridley, second permanent secretary at the Home Office, said the spare beds were needed to cope with sudden surges of migrants and avoid overwhelming the main processing centre at Manston near Dover.
By having the buffer of 5,000 hotel beds, he told MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) it meant that newly arrived migrants would be quickly moved out of Manston to prevent overcrowding at the processing centre.
Last year numbers peaked at 4,000 at the site, nearly 2,500 over its capacity and in breach of legal limits.
It comes as the Home Office is already spending £6 million a day on housing 51,000 asylum seekers in nearly 400 hotels or other contingency accommodation such as hostels.
Officials also disclosed that the number of asylum seekers being housed in hotels was still rising and had yet to peak amid official forecasts that more migrants were likely to cross the Channel this year than in 2022.
Some 1,339 migrants have reached the UK in small boats in the last three days, taking the total of Channel migrants for this year to 12,772. That’s just four per cent lower than by this time last year.
Mr Ridley said the traditional peak of arrivals was in July, August and September, which meant it was “definitely a possible scenario” that numbers this year would surpass last year’s record total of 45,755.
He told MPs: “We are making sure we have a buffer as close to 5,000 beds as we can so we always have an outflow. We are carrying a large number of empty beds in order to let us move people out [of Manston].”
He said arrivals were “unpredictable,” citing this weekend when more than 1,300 arrived in three days, many of whom were being moved into “buffer” hotels dotted around the country before being transferred to more permanent hotels.
Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office’s permanent secretary, told the PAC that his department did not have a target date for ending the use of hotels. “We haven’t got a date. We have deliberately not [got a date],” he said.
“The reason for that is that there are too many variables, too many factors and any assessment would be out of date…We have got a date by which we think the total will peak and start to come down. It’s still going up at the moment.”
He added: “We are determined to [reduce] it as quickly as possible given that hotels are not ideal accommodation for people in this situation, nor are they ideal for the taxpayer given the cost per person per night.”