Keeping everyone safe : Temporary accommodation for refugees

15 December 2022

Health and safety considerations for churches providing temporary accommodation for refugees.

You must notify us immediately if you want to provide temporary accommodation for refugees in your church or related properties. We will endeavour to support you in providing this accommodation but there are additional things you may need to do and consider, so it is important that you contact us ahead of doing so.
In the meantime we have put together a checklist of risk management considerations if this is something you are considering.
Churches and halls were not designed for full time accommodation, other than the annual winter night shelter schemes that some churches participate in. Opening them up for such use may present logistical and planning issues. Churches will need to liaise with the local authority over the proposed change in use. You should also ensure that all guests are registered as being under local authority care and control and have been referred by them accordingly for accommodation purposes.
Where churches are considering housing refugees within church and/or church hall premises on a short term basis you must ensure they satisfy the relevant safety and welfare legislation associated with the provision of such accommodation. In addition your existing Health & Safety policy, where required, and procedures for the premises will need to be reviewed to reflect the change in use, including consideration of:
  • Fire safety arrangements. Fire risk assessments will need to be reviewed; consider the adequacy of the emergency exits for the number of people you intend to be sleeping on the premises. Is there an automatic fire alarm system to the building? If not how will you ensure any fire is quickly detected and occupants alerted? Where overnight accommodation is provided you will need to consider the provision of an automatic fire alarm system providing coverage of these areas, designed and installed to the current British Standard. The local fire officer may be able to offer further assistance here. 
  • Welfare provision – are existing sanitary arrangements adequate? Can they cope with potential increased demands arising from a change in use of the building? Are appropriately segregated areas available for men, women and children, including toilets and changing areas? What laundry facilities are available?
  • What first aid provision is available? Is this adequate?
  • If bedding is to be provided where will this be housed when not in use?
  • What cooking/catering facilities are available? Are these adequate? How will you supervise/control the use of these areas? If food is to be prepared and stored on the premises are you compliant with current Food Hygiene regulations and licensed with the local authority as a food catering establishment?
  • Guests may be traumatised, come from varying ethnic background and have difficulty communicating with others. This may lead to tensions. Churches need to consider how this will be managed, taking into consideration the safety of both guests, church members and the wider public.
  • Families with young children may be housed. Existing safeguarding procedures will need to be reviewed and updated in line with Methodist Church guidelines to ensure the safety of both children and vulnerable adults using the premises.
  • Waste arrangements. Increased waste will be generated. Are existing arrangements adequate to cater for this? Rubbish bins should be sited well away from the building, kept secured and emptied before they are full. Accumulation of waste will quickly attract vermin and create a health issue.
  • Is the existing lighting and heating provision adequate? Use of portable appliances to supplement existing arrangements should be restricted to proprietary electrical devices that have been subject to an appropriate PAT regime.
  • Security of the property will also need to be reviewed to ensure the personal safety of individuals in the building, along with items of church contents. Churches should consider storing valuable portable items in a secure area of the building that can only be accessed by authorised persons
  • At least one member of the church should be on the premises at all times and have a means of summoning assistance if required.
This is not an inclusive list and churches will need to fully understand and consider their responsibilities when offering accommodation to refugees in order to ensure the safety and welfare of those individuals.