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Firm fighting council's ban on asylum seekers not having to share rooms with strangers

28 March 2018

Jomast, a G4S subcontractor, claims the move is unlawful - but Newcastle City Council is fighting back at a tribunal.

A firm is fighting Newcastle City Council’s decision to ban asylum seekers from being forced to room-share with strangers.

The council outlawed forced sharing last March after it emerged refugees were rooming with people who didn’t even speak the same language.

The authority says housing firm Jomast flouted that by continuing to overcrowd homes.

However, the G4S subcontractor argued the move is “unlawful” with the firm’s owner Stuart Monk telling a tribunal he “absolutely didn’t agree” with it.

And at a hearing on Friday, Mr Monk said he would have no issue sharing a room, “Plenty of people have to share accommodation,” he said.

Housing firm Jomast

Council staff told the tribunal it acted after receiving multiple complaints about overcrowding. It slapped homes with notices, including some that weren’t overcrowded but had excess multiple beds.

However the housing firm feels the move was in breach of the Government’s Housing Act.

Jomast’s barrister, Dominic Bayne, argued the council’s notices contained a trio of “defects” - and that it didn’t have the jurisdiction to effectively override the Home Office by serving the notice.

“These overcrowding notices should not have been sent,” he said.

“(The council) has no power - that’s the local authority going on a frolic of its own.”

Jomast took over the housing of asylum seekers from the city council, the tribunal heard.

Stuart Monk, Owner and Managing Director, Jomast

It sub-contracts the role from G4S, which previously said it doesn’t allow forced sharing at any of the properties it maintains.

The Home Affairs Committee previously stated it wanted to see the practice phased out while authorities in Yorkshire had already successfully dumped the practice.

And Vilma Vodanovich, representing the council, said the only sharing it would allow was with couples or family members.

Earlier, Mr Monk opened up about the firm’s operations claiming it can be swamped with over 100 requests to find housing for refugees each week.

They then ultimately have nine days to get them into rent-free homes, with the firm paid for every night a refugee is housed.

“It is right that the demand for asylum seeker housing is rising,” he said.

“But it fluctuates...we’ve had a big fluctuation recently and we can’t predict what’s going to happen.

"It means we have to keep a pool of accommodation available.”

Banning the move last March, council leader Nick Forbes said: What we want to ensure is that when people are housed they are housed in conditions that we find acceptable. “We are just being very clear with the private sector that people who are fleeing war and torture won’t find themselves in a situation where they are being economically exploited.”

On Thursday, the tribunal visited some of the homes that were said to have had overcrowding, while a council scrutiny committee debated the issue. Councillor Jane Streather said: “The Government has a contract with G4S, subcontracted to Jomast, to provide housing for asylum seekers.
“The council has no role in that other than to regulate the quality of the housing. 

“We passed a policy last year saying is should not be necessary for adults to share a bedroom - particularly if they don’t know each other, are from different countries or cultures, and don’t speak the same language."

"Jomast is continuing to do that. There is a tribunal case being heard today and tomorrow and we are waiting for the judgement."

“Our case is on the grounds of overcrowding. I can’t predict what the outcome will be."

“We do have a meeting with the Home Office in June to discuss these issues.”

A result is expected within six weeks.

The News Item can be viewed by clicking here.

 

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