Refugees' needs must be at the heart of any future accommodation plans


Scottish Refugee Council calls on the Home Office, local authority and housing providers to work together to ensure refugees’ needs are at the heart of any new accommodation arrangemen.

First real shelter for people seeking safety must meet basic standards and be fit for purpose.

Scottish Refugee Council is calling on the Home Office, Glasgow City Council and accommodation provider Serco to make sure that any new arrangement for housing recently arrived asylum seekers in Scotland has the needs of often vulnerable asylum seekers at its heart.

The UK Home Office contracts multi-national giant Serco to provide  asylum housing in Scotland. Serco has in turn outsourced providing accommodation to the private landlord company, Orchard and Shipman. Following the withdrawal of previous plans to re-house people seeking asylum at a site in Possil, and with no long-term solution seemingly in sight, we believe the Home Office must now step up and take an active role in managing the process of finding suitable shelter for people fleeing persecution.

Scottish Refugee Council’s Head of Policy Gary Christie said:

“Providing housing for vulnerable people requires a joint approach from agencies and it is time now for the Home Office to meet its statutory duty to accommodate people seeking asylum and play a leading role in managing its contractor on this issue.

We all want to see a speedy and satisfactory long term resolution to ensure those fleeing persecution, torture and human rights abuses are provided with a safe and supportive shelter to begin to rebuild their lives. We call on the Home Office to work productively with key statutory partners including the local authority, NHS and Police Scotland, and at the same time to proactively reach out to communities at the early stages of considering future arrangements.

One lesson to be learned from the withdrawal of the Balmore Road planning application is the crucial importance of engaging with local communities, making sure they are effectively consulted and that their voices are heard.

People seeking asylum have no choice where they are housed but they do have the right to live in safe, secure accommodation while their applications for asylum are dealt with by the Home Office.

Any future arrangement for initial accommodation must be based on a thorough assessment of people’s needs, as many newly arrived asylum seekers have experienced torture and extreme violence and as such have particular vulnerabilities and needs. 

We hope a long-term solution can be found soon to avoid the prospect of vulnerable individuals being housed in highly unsuitable hostel accommodation for any length of time.”

The Smith Commission recommended further consideration is given to proposals to devolve the responsibility to provide housing and financial support and advice to people seeking asylum in Scotland to the Scottish Government. The lack of coordination and oversight by the Home Office around this issue highlights the structural problems inherent in a remote, arms length approach to providing essential local services and adds further weight to our view that indeed the Scottish Government should be given this responsibility for these matters.

The Home Office’s Statement of Requirements with housing provider Serco includes the central obligation that accommodation is safe, habitable, fit for purpose, and correctly equipped.

The necessary principles for ‘initial accommodation’ housing are:

  • Safe, appropriate first shelter to offer stability for people who have just lodged their application for asylum and have been dispersed to Glasgow on a no-choice basis.
  •  The right information and services to be easily accessible to people to give them a positive start in their new environment – such as health screenings and GP registration; access to education for children; vulnerability assessments and referrals to specialist support services, for example for survivors of torture and women survivors of gender-based violence; help to find the best advice on their asylum claim; the provision of basic financial help, as people are not allowed by law to work; as well as orientation to their unfamiliar new city and help to start integrating with local people.
  • Support so that people can start to rebuild their lives in a stable environment. This means they can concentrate on their asylum claim, so that the evidence available to the Home Office enables it to make the right decision about offering protection.

Initial accommodation is currently provided at the last occupied Red Road flat at Petershill Drive, but these properties are not expected to be available after the end of January 2015.


  1. The Home Office has a legal obligation to provide accommodation to eligible asylum seekers and their dependents in the UK.
  2. Since April 2000, most asylum seekers have been dispersed on a no-choice basis by the Home Office from the south-east of England to different parts of the UK. In Scotland, Glasgow has accommodated the greatest number of people seeking asylum dispersed over the past 14 years.
  3. Since March 2012, the Home Office have discharged this duty by way of a commercial contract – known as COMPASS – whereby accommodation and related transport services in different parts of the UK are provided by private sector companies.
  4. In Scotland, multinational organisation Serco has entered a contract with the Home Office to provide accommodation to eligible asylum seekers. They have, in turn, sub-contracted property management company Orchard and Shipman to source and maintain accommodation.
  5. Accommodation is provided in two phases: first "initial accommodation" and second "dispersal accommodation". The latter is intended to be the settled accommodation for the asylum applicant until their asylum claim is determined. The purpose of "initial accommodation", however, is to ensure that the foundations are in place to help settle the asylum applicant for the duration of their claim and, in particular to ensure they are safe, secure, and that their needs (and those of any dependents) are identified and start to be met.