The Home Office has temporarily placed asylum seekers at The Bell Hotel in Epping during the pandemic.
Without the full facts, many unfounded rumours have since circulated on social media, and many residents have been unnecessarily alarmed.
Here – we try to put the record straight
Why is the Bell Hotel being used?
Asylum Seekers are a Home Office responsibility. The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic disrupted normal Home Office processing arrangements. It needed to find some additional temporary accommodation.
Hotels temporarily closed to normal business due to the Coronavirus are an obvious solution. Using Housing Associations, the Home Office has booked various hotels across the UK to accommodate the temporary delay.
What involvement does the local council have?
Very little. Epping Forest District Council has no involvement in the arrangements. The Home Office notified the local council in advance of this hotel being used for this purpose.
Our Housing service was informed as a matter of courtesy by Clearsprings Housing Association and we have a point of contact to flag any concerns or issues. The Home Office and councils work together closely on issues around the housing of asylum seekers.
Who Pays? How much is this costing local Council Tax Payers? How much has it cost the Council?
Government spending ultimately comes out of the tax payers’ pocket, but none of the costs for The Bell are being paid for locally by Epping Forest District Council or local taxation. All the costs are being met by the Home Office from national government funds.
Are these illegal immigrants?
All of those staying at the Bell Hotel are asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have often fled conflict and persecution in their home countries.
The UK has a statutory duty to provide support for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute while their claim is being decided.
Are people at The Bell going to get local council housing?
Almost certainly not. All UK councils share the task of helping to accommodate asylum seekers. The current temporary arrangement at The Bell has no bearing on where people may eventually live.
Our housing allocation policy puts local people first. You have to have been a resident of Epping Forest district for at least the previous 7 years before we will put you on our housing waiting list.
Has there been an increase in local crime associated with The Bell?
No – Essex Police has confirmed there has been no increase in local crime, or crime associated with people staying at The Bell.
Why didn’t the council explain before?
The Bell Hotel is a private business and this is an emergency Government action taken during then pandemic. Epping Forest District Council were informed rather than consulted.
However, following speculation on social media, we published a widely shared message via our website and social media on 20 July. Our statements and various comments from our councillors have also been shared on a number of other social media platforms. We have also responded individually to a number of calls and emails from concerned residents.
Can I believe everything I see on social media?
No – social media often contains opinion presented as fact. The Home Office has published fact sheets for anyone wishing to have direct information.
- Factsheet – Asylum Accommodation, Applications and Interviews
- The use of temporary hotels to house asylum seekers during Covid-19
No negative impact on local residents
Epping Forest District Council Housing Portfolio Holder, Holly Whitbread has been in touch with many local residents. She said:
There has been a lot misleading information and rumour about the people staying at The Bell Hotel. I want to reassure local people. The Home Office use of The Bell has no negative impact on local residents.
It is not costing EFDC anything. It is not affecting our council house allocations or being funded through our local housing budget, and it is not impacting local crime levels, with no increase in crime or crime linked to the hotel. If anyone needs further reassurance I strongly suggest reading the Home Office Fact Sheet.
All the people staying at The Bell receive Home Office-funded meals and daily support in the hotel. Many are likely to have come from war-torn or famine ravaged parts of the world. I am sure the vast majority are looking for a safe haven to restart their lives for themselves and their families.
They are not a threat to local people and I would appeal to everyone to leave them in peace while the government deals with their claims.
Keep up to date
Keep in touch with our latest news, service updates and reports.