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Huge legal bill over Paignton asylum hotel

Tuesday, 12 December 2023 08:23

By local democracy reporter, Guy Henderson

Paignton Esplanade Hotel (Image: Guy Henderson)

Council criticised for spending lots

Using a seafront hotel in Paignton to accommodate asylum seekers has cost Torbay Council more than £136,000 in legal fees alone.

A request submitted under the Freedom of Information Act by former council leader, Lib Dem Steve Darling, revealed the figure, which one local councillor says represents money which could have been put to better use.

The Esplanade Hotel was taken over by the Home Office in September last year, and up to 140 refugees at a time have been housed there ever since.

But the building was put on the market in September with an asking price of £1.65 million.

It is understood that the men living in the hotel are being moved this week, but the Home Office has not said exactly where they are going. A local community group has been collecting warm clothes and shoes for the hotel’s residents.

The Home Office moved the asylum seekers, from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea into the hotel with little prior warning to the council or local MP Kevin Foster.

A number of the new arrivals said they were under 18, meaning the council had to carry out long and costly assessments of their needs. The local authority applied for a judicial review into the Home Office’s conduct, saying it had put increased pressure on local services such as children’s social care, health provision and local schools.

The council said it would always welcome and support people needing help, but wanted to highlight the extra burden on its limited resources.

However, the application was turned down earlier this year.

Cllr Darling’s freedom of information request, reveals that the council spent £91,132 on legal fees to deal with the issue in the 2022/23 financial year and another £45,128 so far this year.

Deputy Lib Dem leader Swithin Long said: “The asylum hotel has proved extremely financially  costly for local residents, and it’s money which could have been used for local services.

“While it is good news that the government will stop using these hotels, it has cost the local taxpayer a huge amount in fees at the expense of local services, when there are already huge costs elsewhere in the council.”

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