Housing sector condemns Serco eviction plans as home secretary faces mounting pressure to intervene
The firm behind “crude and cruel” plans to change locks and evict up to 300 asylum seekers in Glasgow who have been told they have no right to stay in the UK is under increasing pressure to suspend the action.
It was revealed yesterday that Serco was to begin the first of six ‘lock change’ notices on Monday at accommodation which is home to asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing war or persecution in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The residents, who the Home Office has determined will not be granted refugee status, are to be given a week to leave the properties.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) said Serco should reflect on plans and not put profit before people.
Sally Thomas, chief executive of SFHA, said: “Serco has been criticised in the past for poor practice in how it treats vulnerable tenants, and appeared to improve its policy and practice on how it interacts with asylum seekers who have had asylum claims refused.
“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.”
Thomas added: “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.
“We urge Serco to reflect on their plans and comply with the spirit as well as the letter of the law and work with relevant support organisations to make sure their work is done in a completely legal and humane way.”
The Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (GWSF) said Serco’s plans are crude and cruel and should be reviewed urgently.
A number of community based housing associations in Glasgow lease multiple properties to Serco - an arrangement that has continued despite what GWSF said have been long-running issues with how they are managed.
GWSF director David Bookbinder said: “Our many members who lease property to Serco do so with the full expectation that asylum seekers are treated lawfully and humanely at what is always a deeply unsettling and uncertain time for them.
“The issue of how housing associations and other bodies respond where people have no access to public funds has been an incredibly difficult one for a long time now. But this can’t be the right way for Serco to deal with the situation, and we know our member associations which lease property to Serco will be watching developments carefully in the coming days and weeks.”
Meanwhile Glasgow politicians are urging home secretary Sajid Javid to intervene and prevent a “humanitarian crisis” by halting Serco’s plans.
In a strongly-worded letter co-signed by an array of cross-party councillors and MPs, Cllr Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, “calls on the Home Office to demand Serco ceases its lock change programme”.
The council is legally prevented from housing failed asylum seekers, while housing charities lack the capacity to help so many people, the letter adds.
The letter condemns the Home Office contractor’s action as “wholly unacceptable”, saying it will “trigger a humanitarian crisis in Glasgow” and create “imminent risk of significant harm to a vulnerable group”.
Govan Law Centre said it is working with local MP Chris Stephens and Glasgow City Council’s Jennifer Layden, both signatories of the letter, and other stakeholders to try and prevent the evictions and that it “stands ready to challenge Serco in court”.
Labour MP Paul Sweeney, another co-signatory of Cllr Aitken’s letter, has claimed that Serco chief executive Rupert Soames may consider suspending the action pending an equality impact assessment and consultation on the matter.
Mr Sweeney said he spoke to the businessman when he was told that the six eviction notices to be served this week involve single males.
The MP said: “Mr Soames told me that the vast majority of these cases involve single males, but I pointed out that there may be unknown issues involving these men – for example, they may well have underlying mental health problems.
“I suggested that an equality impact assessment should be carried out and that a full consultation should take place and he said he welcomed the suggestion.”
Jenni Halliday, Serco’s contract director, added: “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.”
A protest against the decision is planned in Glasgow city centre today.