People training as Border Force guards have been stripped of free accommodation while they are being taught how to assess people seeking asylum who are subsequently placed in hotels, a union has disclosed.
Instead, they have been asked to drive or use public transport for round-trip journeys of several hours to their training courses, a spokesperson for the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said. The trainees face the possibility of failing their course if they do not turn up on time.
The Home Office is training hundreds of staff across the UK amid a crisis in the asylum system. The department is also preparing to train more than 500 members of the army from Monday to cover for Border Force guards who have voted to go on strike.
According to Home Office insiders, trainees on upcoming training courses at Heathrow and Gatwick are being told to travel daily from as far away as Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent and will not be put up in a hotel. Travel times have been lengthened by rail strikes and recent flooding, they claimed.
At the same time, trainees are being told that lateness and not attending the whole course will result in failing the training, it was alleged.
The PCS union, which represents hundreds of Border Force guards across the UK, said: “Training of Border Force officers is extremely important. The refusal to pay for hotels overnight for people traveling up to three hours a day for a course over a number of days is unacceptable. Those attending courses should feel fresh and ready to learn.
“It is much harder to take in important information when tired and stressed after a long journey. The Home Office scrimping by not paying for hotels is not a good use of taxpayer money and is counterproductive.”
Border Force guards are usually given three weeks of training as a minimum before they interact with the public. After the three weeks, they are assigned a mentor whom they can work alongside for up to a month to ensure they can work solo on a passport desk.
While in training, they learn how to process and interview passengers, identify victims of modern slavery, spot forged documents, identify suspected trafficked children, and learn how to question passengers.
Border Force guards are trained to deal with people arriving on small boats and help to process them when they arrive. Private contractors are usually hired to transfer newly arrived immigrants to hotels.
More than 120,000 people are waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim – a fourfold increase in five years. A majority of people waiting for their assessment are placed in hotels.
The Guardian disclosed last Thursday that plans signed off by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, said military personnel would be given training of five days so they could cover jobs at ports such as Dover, and airports including Heathrow. The first soldiers are supposed to arrive for training on Monday, Home Office staff have been told.
Border Force has come under increased pressure from the rise in small boat crossings in the Channel. The Home Office is also being pressed to reduce the overcrowding at the Manston center in Kent and other sites for processing asylum seekers.
Border Force guards in the PCS union are among 100,000 civil servants who voted last week to strike over pay and conditions. The union is calling for a 10% pay rise, better pensions, job security and no cuts to redundancy terms.
Reacting to the union’s statement, a Home Office spokesperson said the policy on accommodation for staff attending compulsory training had not changed.
“The taxpayer rightly expects value for money. It has therefore been a longstanding policy that if trainees live close to a training facility, they will be expected to commute to work, not book a hotel,” the spokesperson said.