Author: Karen McVeigh
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, is being urged to intervene to stop a housing provider from locking hundred of asylum seekers out of their homes, leaving them destitute.
Glasgow city council and MPs expressed “deep concern” that an imminent mass eviction of asylum seekers by Serco would trigger a humanitarian crisis in the city.
Serco, a private firm which houses thousands of asylum seekers in Glasgow, says it will start evicting more than 300 people who have been told they cannot stay in Britain. It planned to issue the first six “lock change” notices on Monday, giving residents seven days’ notice to leave their properties.
In a letter to Javid, MPs and the council described Serco’s actions as wholly unacceptable, risking significant risk of imminent harm to a vulnerable group as well as pressure on the city’s charities.
The letter, signed by the Glasgow city council leader Susan Aitken, cross party councillors and seven Glasgow MPs, says evidence suggests that the eviction of failed asylum seekers by Serco is “far less likely to lead to their voluntarily leaving the UK than it is to their joining the city’s homeless and rough sleeper population … we hereby call on you, as home secretary, to instruct Serco to cease the lock change and eviction programme with immediate effect”.
The council is legally prevented from housing failed asylum seekers, while housing charities lack the capacity to help so many people, the letter says.
Serco said it was confident its actions were legal and said it had been working closely with the council. The council dispute this, saying there was no “meaningful engagement” with Serco prior to its lock change policy.
Positive Action in Housing, the refugee homelessness charity, said those threatened with eviction include those who had fled conflict in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The charity said it had been told by several distraught Serco residents they had considered killing themselves. In 2010, an asylum seeking couple and their son died at Glasgow’s Red Road flats in what was believed to have been a suicide pact, the day they were told to leave their Home Office flat.
Asylum rights groups, giving evidence to MPs, have previously accused Serco of bullying and intimidating asylum seekers out of their accommodation.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations said: “We are concerned now that Serco is in danger of putting profit before people, failing to work within the spirit of the law, and letting down vulnerable households in the support and inadequate time they need to make alternative housing arrangements.
“Serco leases many of the homes they provide to asylum seekers from housing associations in Glasgow. Speaking on behalf of members, we would be concerned if even lawful evictions were done in such a way that was inhumane and put vulnerable households on the streets, without support.”
Robina Qureshi, of Positive Action in Housing, the homelessness charity for refugees, urged Serco’s chief executive, Rupert Soames, to intervene, saying: “We are appalled that Serco would carry out these actions against vulnerable refugees who endure interminable Home Office delays with their cases.”
Many of the asylum seekers that Serco intends to evict are pursuing legal cases, she said, with many likely have their decisions overturned on appeal.
Fiona McPhail, the principal solicitor for the homeless charity Shelter Scotland, said: “Anybody in this situation of having notice or anticipating notice should get urgent legal advice as it is not clear cut that Serco can merely change the lock.”
Serco issued a statement, quoting Jenni Halliday, who is the contract director of the scheme for housing asylum seekers, who said: “Serco has been providing housing free of charge to over 300 former asylum seekers who no longer have the right to stay in the UK. We have been paying for the rent, the rates, the heating and lighting, and insurance on their properties, in many cases for many months all at our own expense. Each of these former asylum seekers have been refused the right to stay in the UK by the government and the Home Office does not fund Serco to provide them with accommodation.
“Whilst we are sympathetic to their plight, we believe we have been more than supportive of these individuals by providing them with an additional period of housing in which to make alternative arrangements but we cannot continue to provide free housing indefinitely. As they no longer have any right to continue to live in the property we provide. [sic] We have therefore started legal proceedings to repossess our properties.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation while applications are considered. We also cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs.
“While an asylum claim is outstanding, we would not be seeking removal. Even if an asylum claim has failed, we will provide accommodation for those who would otherwise be destitute and who are temporarily unable to leave the UK because of a practical or legal obstacle. However it is right that we prepare for someone’s removal if they do not have a lawful basis to stay in the UK and they are not pursuing an appeal.”