MOVING asylum seekers into the social welfare net would more than double the cost of accommodating them in Ireland each year.

A report into value for money in providing bed and board for would-be refugees found that the so-called "direct provision" system is the cheapest option.

Using this system, asylum seekers are paid a small weekly stipend in welfare payments but have their lodgings and food needs provided for.

The cost of providing accommodation for asylum seekers is now in the order of €91.5m with an average occupancy of 6,857 people.

However, moving those people directly into the social welfare system could end up costing at least €180m, the report found.

The possibility of using self-catering facilities was also ruled out by the report, which said that it could cost at least €18m a year extra to administer.

The report considered four options but said that the status quo – with some improvements – seemed the most sensible choice. The authors said: "Three [options] involve a move away from direct provision with a shift to social welfare-based entitlements.

"All three of these options would be more expensive than direct provision and potentially would cost twice as much. None of these options is therefore worthy of further consideration and the conclusion is that direct provision is the best option."

The report also found that the Reception and Integration Agency was routinely operating well below capacity and that some centres were just 80% full.

It was suggested that centres could operate at a higher capacity and still make provision for any major upsurge in asylum applications.

The report said: "The review calculated that at current usage levels and under current contract conditions, this 'excess capacity' should be less than 10%.

"Recent 'excess capacity' levels of 15% should be reduced as soon as possible to yield an estimated annual saving of €3.9m."

An international survey of six countries also found that Ireland was – unsurprisingly – the second most expensive country in which to house asylum seekers.

Daily rates fluctuated widely with differences of up to €14 per night reported across different centres with the highest rates applying in Dublin at an average €36.50.

At one centre, the daily cost of housing an asylum seeker was €25 while at another, the government was being charged €39 for the same service.