Asylum accommodation update

Locked door
Serco will issue lock change notices and evict women, men and children from their homes

Six months have passed since Serco’s announcement last summer that they planned to evict people from their accommodation in Glasgow. The housing provider served lock change notices, threatening to make over 300 people in the city homeless and destitute. This lock change policy generated widespread opposition, and a legal challenge was raised by Govan Law Centre, who argued that no evictions should take place without the authority of a court order. The hearing took place on 7-8 February 2019 at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The court is yet to return its judgment. So, what happens next?

What happens if the Court agrees with Serco’s approach?

The Court may find forced evictions via lock changes lawful. Currently there is no clear route for people to avoid the destitution that follows eviction so we could expect a large number of people to be immediately made homeless.

How many people are affected by this?

We estimate around 300 people are currently at risk of forced destitution in Glasgow. 

What is Scottish Refugee Council doing to help people at risk?

Since the lock change notices were served, we've hosted  25 free legal surgeries in partnership with Just Right Scotland, Legal Services Agency, Latta Law and Co. and Shelter Scotland. These surgeries are designed to help individuals directly affected by lock changes and potentially at risk of eviction to understand their rights and consider their options. 109 individuals have attended these legal surgeries. Our support service for people who are destitute, has helped 181 people over this period. Additional short term funding from the Scottish Government allowed us to increase capacity in our destitution advice team, to coordinate the legal surgeries and work intensively with individuals’ applications for emergency support and accommodation (Section 4 support). 

People who are destitute come to us in very distressed states and our advisers also offer a listening ear and emotional support. Advisers make referrals to GPs and specialist organisations like the NHS’s psychological trauma team and the charity Freedom from Torture.  But mental health specialists tell us it is very difficult to help people who are destitute and have nowhere to live.

Why is Serco still involved in accommodation in Glasgow? Didn’t they lose their contract?

Serco failed to secure the new contract to provide accommodation in Glasgow for the next eight years. The new provider, Mears Group, will take over in September 2019. At the moment we are in a transition period from Serco to Mears, and Serco continues to send people letters asking them to leave their accommodation. 

Will Mears Group take a different approach and refuse to evict people into destitution?

We have raised the issue with Mears and recommended a number of approaches they could take to avoid the serious human rights concern of forced destitution. We will continue to work with them, with the Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council and the Home Office. At the moment we do not know how Mears will manage this issue.  

What’s next?

After our calls for a different approach, the Home Office has now committed to improving the way it works with local authorities and to reviewing funding. Glasgow City Council is setting up a partnership board to give the city oversight of how the Home Office, Serco and Mears Group are operating in Glasgow. We will continue to urge  this board to find practical solutions to the crisis of homelessness and destitution among people refused asylum as a matter of urgency – including the critical need for emergency accommodation for destitute asylum seekers. 

We continue to urge the Home office  to put in place a fair and sustainable funding for local authorities, communities and asylum seekers.

In the face of these issues and the many challenges the UK’s asylum system presents, we will continue to stand with people in need of refugee protection in Glasgow. We recognise the support, welcome, friendship and solidarity extended by people from all different backgrounds across the city to those going through this arduous process. We believe, as many people do, that asylum seeking communities have played such an important role in making Glasgow the diverse, vibrant city it is today.