Councils are being overwhelmed by asylum seekers because the Home Office is moving hundreds of claimants into hotels in their areas without their knowledge, the spending watchdog has said.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) cited cases in which up to 160 asylum seekers had been booked into three-star hotels in a local area without councils or health authorities being warned so that they could prepare local services and avoid being overwhelmed.

It follows the disclosure this week by The Telegraph that nearly 10,000 asylum seekers are being housed in up to 100 hotels across the UK – nine times the number in March – following a surge in migrants reaching the UK in small boats crossing the Channel.

"In one instance notified to the inquiry, a group of people were moved to a hotel in a different local authority area at the last minute and without notifying either the relevant local authority or the NHS bodies affected," said the PAC.

"In another instance, the asylum services provider had told the affected local authority but had not informed the local health commissioner that 160 asylum seekers were moving to a local hotel, who could need medical and other services.

"Where plans are shared, this is not done with enough time to allow health and well-being services to put the necessary support services in place." 

The MPs warned that the lack of preparation, and failure to share data, meant elements of the new services were "set up to fail" despite tens of millions of pounds being spent on new accommodation contracts with private companies.

The PAC said it was also "very concerned" that thousands of asylum seekers continued to be placed in hotels rather than "more appropriate" accommodation.

The Covid pandemic has partly contributed to the surge in use of hotels after the Home office and its contractors Serco, Mears and Clearsprings paused the movement of asylum seekers from existing properties.

At the same time, the number of migrants crossing the Channel has increased seven-fold on last year, with a record 8,500 reaching UK shores so far this year. The Government is legally obliged to house them, despite more than 80 per cent subsequently seeing their asylum claims rejected.

The PAC said the use of hotels had been a problem even before the pandemic, noting that 1,000 asylum seekers a night had been housed in them since October 2019. Some had been in them for far longer than 35 days, the normal cut-off before being moved to more permanent accommodation.

Hotels not only lacked facilities for children but were also not suitable for families to share and meant asylum seekers could not register with a GP or enrol their children into school. As of October 1, 428 school-age children had been in hotels for more than 35 days, the PAC said.

"The Home Office should, within three months, set out a clear plan for how it will quickly and safely reduce the use of hotels and ensure that asylum seekers’ accommodation meets their individual needs," recommended the MPs.

In Birmingham, which has received more than 1,500 asylum seekers, city council cabinet member John Cotton complained in the summer that plans for an increase threatened to strain services.

"The lack of meaningful consultation with the council and the voluntary sector increases the risks around being able to properly support vulnerable people in our city even more," Mr Cotton said.

"I am extremely concerned this additional demand will place further strain on already stretched resources including health services, community policing and mental health support."

Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, a charity for migrants, said there had been a "multitude of problems" with the hotels, as asylum seekers had been left struggling to access doctors, welfare officers and legal support.

She said there were further health risks from a diet consisting largely of ready made meals and no fresh vegetables and fruit and, in many cases, no access to English lessons.