Home Office misses deadline to access EU poverty relief funds

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Exclusive: series of errors by department has put further ??2.9m in aid funding at risk

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid???s department wanted to use the money to help victims of modern slavery. Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/Rex/Shutterstock

A catalogue of errors by the Home Office has led to a loss of access to ??600,000 of EU funds earmarked for the most deprived people in Britain and has put a further ??2.9m at risk, it can be revealed.

The government had tried to claim the money for Theresa May???s flagship policy of helping the victims of modern slavery, but Sajid Javid???s department missed the deadline to recoup the ringfenced money.

Under the watch of the home secretary, who has ambitions to replace May in Downing Street, the UK has been left as the only EU member state to fail to deliver aid to its citizens through the programme, and it is still yet to make an application for the remainder of the ??3.5m that was available.

The ???3.4bn European Aid to the Most Deprived fund was established as an attempt to help member states meet a poverty reduction target of ???lifting at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion??? by the end of 2020.

The British government initially intended to use the money to support breakfast clubs in schools that had particularly high rates of social disadvantage.

Last autumn, the government changed its mind and decided instead to use the cash to back the prime minister???s modern slavery campaign, one of the few policies that has survived her time in Downing Street.

The Home Office took over the application for the funds with the aim of aiding vulnerable 16- to 24-year-olds who had entered the UK through a resettlement scheme, been granted refugee status through the in-country asylum process, or identified as potential victims of modern slavery.

But the Home Office did not draw up the necessary paperwork and secure the agreement of the European commission in time. As a result, the UK failed to claim the initial tranche ??? ??600,000 ??? of its allocation under the fund by the end of 2018.

The Home Office then set a target of having a proposal ready to submit to the commission provisionally by the end of March 2019, with the programme of works scheduled to begin in July 2019, and with the fund becoming operational in the UK by the end of the year.

As of this week, the proposal has neither been completed nor implemented, raising concerns further funds are going to be lost due to the department???s failures.

Ministers claimed it was necessary to redraft their initial proposal of spending the money on breakfast clubs, because it was impossible to sufficiently supervise and failed meet the commission???s eligibility criteria.

A commission report on use of the fund said 16 million people had benefited from it in 2016 alone, with most (96%) receiving food support, bringing the total beneficiaries between 2014 and 2016 to about 38 million.

None of these beneficiaries were in the UK, as the commission noted ???implementation of the fund in the UK has not started yet???, and this remained the case.

A Home Office spokesperson said: ???Working with the European commission, the Home Office has worked hard to secure funding to support victims of modern slavery and those being resettled in the UK. Given time constraints and commission rules, we were not able to claim all of the funding before the deadline.

???We are grateful to the commission for contributing to our important work supporting some of the most vulnerable.???

Claude Moraes, a Labour MEP who chairs the European parliament???s home affairs committee, said: ???This further damages the reputation of the Home Office.

???In or out of the EU cooperation and alleviation of the suffering caused by modern slavery is a priority on both sides. And critical EU funds are there ??? there is no excuse.???