Published: 14:56, 15 September 2009
| Updated: 14:56, 15 September 2009
by political editor Paul Francis
Kent County Council has warned that an unexpected change in Government funding for child asylum seekers could cost it millions of pounds.
KCC has called for urgent talks with the Home Office after the Government told social services chiefs they would no longer qualify for some elements of grants paid to councils to look after unaccompanied asylum seekers.
The potential shortfall could be close to £7million and already the council says it has a funding gap of £3.5million, partly because the Government no longer meets the costs of looking after young asylum seekers when they reach the age of 18.
It drew a warning from KCC leader Cllr Paul Carter that any failure to reimburse the costs could end up pushing up Council Tax bills.
He urged the Government to rethink its plans, saying: "If we do not, we will have no option but to pre-set the council tax but let’s hope we do not get there."
KCC is responsible for about 1,000 unaccompanied minors and even where they have lost appeals to stay in the UK, social services remains responsible for them until they either reach the age of 21 or are deported.
KCC said the Government gave it no warning it was amending the rules, which meant an element to cover costs of looking after asylum seekers in centres would no longer be paid.
Speaking at a meeting of the Conservative cabinet, Rosalind Turner, KCC’s managing director of children’s services, said: "We have heard that funding is going to be cut back in the current year because [the Home Office] is changing the grant rules and we may be facing almost double the £3.5million this year."
Of the 1,000-plus unaccompanied minors in Kent, about a third are waiting for the outcome of appeals while a further third have already been through the process but had yet to be deported. While they remain in the UK, KCC bears the costs of their welfare support.
The Home Office was not available to comment.