At risk families from Afghanistan to be housed in Torridge

Riverbank House, the home of Torridge District Council

Riverbank House, the home of Torridge District Council - Credit: TDC

Despite the reservations of some councillors who believe local people should take priority for housing, Torridge District Council has agreed to accommodate families of some Afghan nationals who worked alongside UK armed services and whose lives are now threatened by the Taliban. 

The decision by Torridge’s community and resources committee follows the government contacting all local authorities for urgent support with the Afghan Locally Employed Staff (LES) reallocation scheme. The scheme assists Afghans who worked side-by-side with British forces in roles such as interpreters or guides during operations in Afghanistan. 

It is not clear how many families from the Afghan relocation scheme will come to Torridge, but the number is expected to be small. 

The scheme started in 2013, but the recent advance of the Taliban across Afghanistan has created an emergency need to house at-risk families. 

The Home Office will provide a year of financial support to help pay for the families housing and other resettlement needs. It is expected that the families will be eligible for government support including Universal Credit. 

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Councillors also agreed to extend support of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (SVPS). In March last year, they council had agreed to provide two houses for Syrian people, but because of the pandemic the scheme was suspended before this could happen. The scheme, which will also be funded by the Home Office, will now end in 2022. 

Speaking at the meeting, council leader Ken James said the council had an obligation to support the Afghan relocation scheme.  

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Councillor Doug Bushby said he recognised the obligation to support the refugees but worried that it would be unfair given the number of people waiting for housing in Torridge. 

He said: “I’d be delighted to house them if we had somewhere to put them but I can’t see it as morally right that you’re denying someone local a family home over and above somebody who’s coming in from abroad however dire the situation is.” 

Councillor David Hurley agreed, saying: “I’m just concerned where a house or a couple of houses would come to house the extra people coming in. I’ve got nothing against doing that, but local people will not be very happy. 

“I haven’t got a problem housing refugees – if there are houses available, which at this time there don’t appear to be.” 

Cllr James replied: “I honestly just think we need to do what we commit to do. It’s a moral issue if we don’t stand by that. 

“I’m all for improving the local housing stock and doing something about it and I have been for a long long time but I don’t think people are going to get that agitated when we’re doing something that we should be doing.” 

Councillor Peter Christie agreed: “We do have a moral duty to do this and I think we’re looking at it the wrong way around.” He said the concerned councillors should first be thinking about the root causes of the housing shortage in Torridge, such as second homes, holiday homes and lack of affordable homes.” 

He added: “There are enough houses for everyone it’s just that some people hoard them.” 

The SVPS was launched by the government in 2015, with the expectation of accepting up to 20,000 Syrian refugees into the UK. 

To date, 48 families have been relocated in the Devon County Council area, which excludes Torbay and Plymouth. 

It is not yet clear where in Torridge those settled through the SVPS or the Afghan LES relocation scheme will be placed. The council says it will look to find socially-minded landlords to provide accommodation. 

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