Firm accused over asylum seeker homes
Double-letting claim rubbish – says company
A PROBE into an asylum seeker housing contract has been launched amid claims a private company charged the Government and a Yorkshire council for the same properties. The Home Office is investigating if London-based Angel Group rented the same houses to Leeds Council to put up homeless people and to the Government to accommodate asylum seekers for seven months last year. The company has a contract with the Home Office’s National Asylum Support Service (NASS) to provide 3,351 bed spaces, which equates to 5.78 per cent of the entire scheme. It provides accommodation in Yorkshire and the North-East, and separately has a deal with Leeds Council to house the homeless. Allegations have also emerged as to whether the firm was paid for accommodation unfit for habitation or for which it had no keys in Newcastle and whether it claimed discounts on council tax to which it was not entitled in the city and Leeds. The Home Office yesterday confirmed a probe was under way, and added the contract could be terminated and the police involved if evidence of fraud was substantiated. “We are taking these allegations very seriously and we are currently investigating the claims made to us and the Angel Group,” said a spokeswoman. Leeds Council said it had a contract with Angel Group to provide 220 units for the homeless, which were a mixture of flats and houses for single people and families. But the council stressed it was only charged for what units it used under the deal, which began last June. It said it was unable to provide information about council tax because of the Data Protection Act. “Unlike the Home Office, Leeds City Council reviews properties every month with the Angel Group. We would expect Government auditors would take the necessary action if it’s proved that double-letting has been taking place in order to protect the taxpayer,” added a spokesman. Angel Group managing director Julia Davey said the allegations were “absolute rubbish” and the invention of former employees with an axe to grind after losing their jobs. In a statement issued through her solicitor, she said: “During the entire course of the NASS contract we have been subjected to many hundreds of NASS inspections (of which, in accordance with Home Office procedures, we have had no prior notice) and we have received a satisfactory report in every single case. “Our records have also been audited by Home Office-appointed accountants, who have always given us a clean bill of health. “I would never ask anybody to lie and these allegations represent a gross slur on the many tried and trusted employees Page 43 Firm accused over asylum seeker homes Yorkshire Post August 4, 2005 who continue to work for Angel”. The investigation comes after the Government spending watchdog last month warned the Home Office was paying millions of pounds over the odds to house asylum seekers. The National Audit Office (NAO) said contracts signed to accommodate asylum seekers were costing at least £25m more than market rates and concluded there was “considerable scope” for savings. The auditors urged NASS to “build up an awareness of typical regional prices so that it can negotiate competitive rates”. The report also revealed that many landlords were receiving taxpayers’ money for unoccupied properties because contracts signed by the Government were so inflexible. In all, £439m was spent by NASS to house asylum seekers in 2003-4, the NAO report said.