In September 2019, asylum accommodation contracts changed hands. Here in Glasgow, Mears Group took over from Serco.

Today, the National Audit Office (NAO) released an assessment of these transitions, revealing damning failures.

Graham O’Neill, our Policy Manager, on these failures in Glasgow:

“Today’s NAO report is a timely expose of the Home Office’s irresponsible lip service to the care of vulnerable people that have fled war and human rights abuse, under its jurisdiction.

“The plight of 400 vulnerable people in Home Office and Mears’ hotels in Glasgow tonight and the 5,000 across the UK in the same predicament bear witness to what is a care scandal.

“Men, women, families, children, trafficking and torture survivors and those struggling with mental health. They are all rendered alone to hotel rooms, for 3 months and counting. The Home Office  deemed that they would have no money or, therefore, control over the lives. They are all suffering, bewildered, scared in what is institutional accommodation. The tragedies in Glasgow are dreadful: 2 people are dead; six people are in hospital; and hundreds more are traumatised..

“That is why today’s NAO report matters. It is not only about “value for money”, it is about people, about how they are treated or neglected by those responsible for their care.

“Yes, it is about advice and accommodation services for men, women, families – whose lives are riven with loss, trauma and uncertainty. But, it is really about whether the Home Office values people in desperate need of safety, stability and privacy, to get control over their lives again. As the NAO report exposes there is no Key Performance Indicator in asylum accommodation, around the vulnerability and wellbeing of people themselves.

“Whilst the Home Office will state that vulnerability and safeguarding is a contractual requirement, tell that to those in their care in Glasgow right now. As the NAO reveals: there is still no vulnerability or safeguarding framework – 10 months into the contract. The reason from the Home Office – “because of a lack of resources”. This is a £4 billion public service.

“The NAO report also confirms a wider truth: that before Covid-19, thousands of people new to the country and seeking safety were stuck in limbo initial accommodation, unable to access normal life, or health services, GPs, or get to know their new communities, to get their kids into school.

“The NAO report states almost 1,000 had been left in this limbo for 3 months.

“At least another 1,000 were stuck in hotels rooms before Covid-19. Since the pandemic, there are now 5,000 in rooms across the country. In these conditions, mental health will obviously unravel, despair will take root, people lose hope. That is why the Home Secretary must get a grip of the vulnerability and care scandal in its institutional “hotels“ across the UK, as the Glasgow hotel debacle tragically exposed.

“We in the refugee sector have sensed this lamentable state of affairs for a long time but the NAO report confirms it. And, we are grateful for that, as the Home Office refuses to admit these performance failures and neglect. We have waited for years to get the Information Commissioner’s Office, to order the Home Office to publish its accommodation performance and fines data. As the NAO found, the Home Office still does not willingly publish any information on the performance of its accommodation and advice services, contrary to even its own Government’s standards.

“This NAO report exposes why the Home office are so reluctant, with simply dreadful service performance in the advice contract and persistent problems in accommodation services, beyond how vulnerabilities are neglected. Now we know, for instance, that Mears were fined £3.1m in just the first 5 months of the contract. Serco – again – were fined, this time for £2.6m – a total of £10m  in its decade of refugee housing. As the NAO recommends, the Home Office must be made publicly accountable, like every other Department, for how they run these services and treat those under its care.

“This is yet another critical inquiry report into the Home Office’s handling of its accommodation and advice services. As the Glasgow hotel debacle shows, no more excuses, the Home Office must change.”

You can read the full NAO report here.

Read the new report by Refugee Action – Wake Up Call: how government contracts fail people seeking asylum.

Chris Afuakwah
Author: Chris Afuakwah