Serious failings in provision of asylum accommodation in Scotland

Housing estate in Glasgow
High-rise flats in Glasgow. c. Jenny Wicks

People fleeing persecution and serious human rights abuses including torture, are being housed in substandard accommodation in Scotland, putting their physical and mental wellbeing at risk.

A new report by SRC identifies widespread problems with the quality of accommodation provided to people seeking asylum in Scotland, currently managed by multinational giant Serco and housing manager Orchard and Shipman.

Our report gathered evidence of twelve months' worth of complaints about accommodation raised by asylum seekers in Glasgow. These include concerns about:

  •   a lack of adequate heating or hot water
  •     filthy or infested properties
  •     no locks on doors
  •     families having to share accommodation with strangers
  •     a lack of respect shown by housing provider staff towards asylum seekers

Some people reported that complaints about problems as severe as leaking bedroom ceilings or lack of keys to access their building went unheeded, and that sometimes their complaints were even met with hostility or abuse.

One young man returned to his accommodation to find the locks changed and his few belongings confiscated while a young mother with a toddler son was subjected to frequent racist abuse and forced to repeatedly share accommodation with strangers.

Disturbing

One woman from Africa, Sarah, with a five-year-old son shares her experience: “Where do I even begin? With only ten minutes’ notice they brought another family, a woman with a three-year-old, to share our flat, which is only two-bedroomed.  It was totally disturbing, it disturbed my college and it disturbed my son’s school routine. We had to share private spaces like the kitchen and bathroom. It was so complicated that sometimes my son ended up going hungry.”

Endemic problems

Scottish Refugee Council Acting Chief Executive Gary Christie said:

“People seeking asylum are often destitute and not allowed to work to support themselves and are forced to rely on the UK Government to put a roof over their head. The breadth and severity of the examples of accommodation problems detailed in our research are shocking. We are sure that they mirror wider, endemic problems with asylum accommodation across the UK as a whole.

"As it has been two and a half years since Serco acquired the government contract to provide accommodation services, the problems that we have found are clearly not just transitional.

“That’s why we are recommending an urgent and comprehensive review of the asylum accommodation contract in Scotland, and we are delighted that the Scottish Government agrees that this needs to happen.

“We also recommend that there needs to be further UK Parliamentary scrutiny of asylum accommodation provision, with a view to an overhaul of the system to make it fit for purpose.

“We would urge the Home Office and accommodation providers to treat asylum seekers as human beings and to provide housing that genuinely supports their needs, as well as making them aware of their rights and actually listening and responding adequately to any problems they might experience.”

The current arrangement to house asylum seekers in Scotland dates back to the Home Office’s decision, in March 2012, to grant outsourcing giant Serco the commercial contract to provide accommodation to asylum seekers in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, this work was subcontracted to private letting company Orchard and Shipman. Previously accommodation was provided by Glasgow City Council and the charity YPeople.

Read our the executive summary The Extent and Impact of Asylum Accommodation Problems in Scotland Summary August 2014.