Has the West Midlands become a dumping ground for asylum seekers?
Asylum seekers and other families have been moved to the West Midlands because of a shortage of affordable housing in London.
Figures obtained by the Express & Star show Haringey and Croydon councils spent hundreds of thousands of pounds this year on rent, utilities and other costs via two companies, operating out of the same house in Wolverhampton and run by the same man.
An MP in the Black Country accused the London councils of 'social cleansing' by sending poorer people up to the West Midlands rather than provide accommodation within the capital.
Spending data published by Croydon shows it uses one of the companies to find accommodation for families with 'no recourse to public funds' – which it says are people who 'have no entitlement to claim state benefits and are usually asylum seekers, failed asylum seekers or individuals who have overstayed their visa'.
Croydon has placed 19 families in the Black Country while Haringey sent 18 over the past two years, although Haringey has not explained whether or not the families are asylum seekers.
Both councils say it is because there is a shortage of affordable properties in the capital.
And the numbers date back to before the most recent migrant crisis in Calais, which has seen hundreds of attempts a night from people trying to get to Britain via the Eurotunnel.
Dozens of other families have also been moved to the West Midlands by councils such as Newham and Brent.
The E&S had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act after Haringey's press office ignored repeated requests for it to elaborate on the spending figures published on its website.
Haringey recorded 159 transactions in the first quarter of the year with Gateway Legal and Professional Services and WM Property Associates, totalling £170,000, each one classed as either 'rents', 'lodgings', 'bed and breakfast' or 'contractor'.
Croydon recorded 139 transactions with Gateway – paying around £140,000. The companies, however, stressed that the vast majority of the money went on rent, utility bills and other costs and only a 'very small amount' was actual profit.
West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson, a contender for Labour deputy leader, said: "It's time for London authorities to come clean about how they are socially cleansing the capital and forcing families to live in private rented accommodation in the Black Country."
Council leader Darren Cooper said it proved the authority's case for restricting council tax benefits to people who had lived in the borough for at least two years.
"The Express & Star investigation proves that there are people being moved from London by councils to the Black Country. Even if it is temporary, while their asylum claim or appeal is being processed, if they are successful they may end up needing the support of local taxpayers and children will need to be educated in local schools.
"This is not the fault of the families. They did not ask to be here and they are being dumped here by councils in London who have not dealt with the issue of the lack of affordable housing."
Wolverhampton council leader Roger Lawrence said: "We are aware of this issue. One of the problems is that London councils do not tell us who they are putting here and where they are putting them. They are using private accommodation."
In its response to our enquiries, Croydon Council said:"This is where this particular company housing management operates and due to lack of affordable accommodation in London. This is a temporary arrangement and the families remain under our duty."
Haringey's response, which came via a request under the Freedom of Information Act, said: "Haringey has placed 13 families in 2014 and five in 2015.
"The majority of the families were placed in Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Dudley. At the time there was a shortage of available temporary housing available in London."
The boss of two companies helping London councils find temporary homes for asylum seekers and other families says his operation is only the tip of the iceberg – despite helping to house dozens of people in the Black Country.
Both Gateway Legal and Professional Services and WM Property Associates are registered to a property in the Graiseley area of Wolverhampton.
The companies' director Joga Singh Basra stressed he was only working with 'small numbers' and was mainly based in Bloomsbury in London.
The firms' names were passed to the Express & Star by a source who said they appeared numerous times in spreadsheets that Haringey and Croydon councils use to publish details of any spending over £500.
Mr Basra stressed that the sums paid went almost entirely on costs including paying rent to landlords whose properties were being used by the councils and that he made very little profit from his business.
Mr Basra explained: "It's mainly housing. We have clients who have housing needs and we find them accommodation. All we do is procure accommodation for their clients.
We help people who find housing unaffordable in London. We also deal with private tenants. We assist them, the councils, in finding accommodation. It's very small numbers. It's one here, one there. We get approached by councils. There's a climate out there of budget cuts. But there are inflows and outflows. The money is not profit. And we are not the only ones doing this."
Mr Basra said he had been doing this for 'three or four years, on and off'.
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