Published: 15 November 2022
The leaders of Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council have written to the government to warn of an imminent funding crisis caused by its decision to grant British citizenship to people of Chagossian descent.
Both councils are pleased for Chagossians that this policy will go some way towards addressing historical wrongs but have grave concerns about housing costs and the implications on public services.
The sums involved are beyond the means of even the largest local authorities. If the councils have to pay for this council services will undoubtedly suffer.
Crawley is home to around 3,000 Chagossians, which makes it by far the largest community in the UK. It’s highly likely that Chagossians taking advantage of the new British citizenship route from 23 November will settle here, where there is an established community and where they may have friends or family.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 Chagossians are expected to take advantage of the scheme and move to the UK. Once British citizenship is granted this is very likely to create immense pressure on accessing local services including housing. If the council is required to provide housing, it would likely result in CBC being forced into issuing a section 114 notice, effectively declaring bankruptcy.
Just 100 households arriving in Crawley without housing would cost £227,500 every month in temporary accommodation costs. If the number is as high as 2,000 it would cost £4,550,000 every month.
There would also be a number of implications for public services, including significantly increased pressures on the health, social care and education systems which are already struggling to cope.
The letter, which has been sent to Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities; Suella Braverman MP, Home Secretary; James Cleverly, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs; Robert Jenrick, Immigration Minister; and Henry Smith MP, states:
“This has the potential to create a crisis for Crawley. The town is already facing unprecedented housing pressures with over 350 households in temporary accommodation and over 2,000 on the housing waiting list.
“Once UK citizenship has been granted, there will be approaches to Crawley Borough Council as Housing Authority to provide accommodation to those that require it. It remains unclear whether those leaving their homes in Mauritius/Seychelles will be regarded as intentionally or unintentionally homeless. Regardless, a duty will still be owed by West Sussex County Council to those with minors under the age of 18 years of age.
“There are significant financial implications that will be placed on both councils if we are required to provide housing for this cohort of people. This is a cost that absolutely should not be borne by the councils and given existing financial pressures cannot be managed. There has been reference by the Home Office to New Burdens funding but we have seen no confirmed details. Even if funding is provided, we do not have the workforce, accommodation or infrastructure to meet the expected need. Also, we do not believe this can be created in the time required.”
We’ve always been a welcoming and diverse community. But I do not think it is either unfair or hyperbole to describe this as a crisis situation for Crawley. As a town, we are already facing historically high housing pressures, with temporary accommodation units approaching 350 and becoming a significant budget pressure for the council, and a housing waiting list of around 2,000. This is despite the council being widely recognised for the numbers of affordable housing units we deliver. The additional units required do not exist, and simply cannot exist by the time applications are being processed. Nor does the council have the capacity or resource to manage these kinds of numbers. This is an international issue and local council taxpayers should not be expected to foot the bill and have their services compromised as a result of paying for this.
Crawley Borough Council
The existing community of Chagossians in Crawley have proven to be valued members of our community and we welcome the Government’s decision to offer British Citizenship to all Chagossians. However, we do not have the infrastructure, services or funding to cope with the potential numbers of Chagossians wanting to settle in West Sussex. It is critical to their well-being and fairness to all of our residents that Government provide funding and solutions as a matter of urgency.
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change
West Sussex County Council