We believe it likely that our decision to proceed with lock-changes on the accommodation of six people whose asylum claims have been declined by the Home Office will be challenged in the Courts in the coming days. We unreservedly welcome such a legal challenge, as it will enable all parties to clarify an area of Scottish law which has so far been untested; this is where tenancies/rights of occupation provided under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 are specifically excluded from the protections of section 23 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984. This should mean that all parties will get clarity as to how the law will apply to people who refuse to move on from the free accommodation provided to them whilst their claims for asylum are being adjudicated. We have strong legal advice that our approach is fully within the law, but we think it would be helpful for all interested parties to have the Courts confirm the position.
In order to facilitate the path of a legal adjudication, Serco will:-
- Extend the notice period by 21 days for the six people currently subject to lock-change notices; this will allow them more time to prepare their representations, or to move out of their properties.
- Pause all further lock-change notices to other asylum seekers who have received negative decisions whilst the law is being tested and clarified. This will also give stakeholders who support asylum seekers more time to prepare for what is likely to be an increase in the number of people seeking their help.
Serco, which has been the subject of some pretty vile abuse over recent days, would like to take the opportunity through this statement of having a “right of reply”.
- By way of context, Serco cares for around 17,000 asylum seekers in the UK providing accommodation and welfare under contract to the Home Office. 5,000 of these people are in Scotland, and almost all of them are in Glasgow, which is the only area within Scotland that has been willing to extend help on any material scale to asylum seekers.
- The asylum system is established to provide a fair way of adjudicating the claims of people who seek asylum and protection in this country. Not all these claims will meet the criteria agreed by Parliament and international convention, and there will be people for whom, at the end of a process that can last years, the answer is “no”. This means that they have no legal right to remain in the country, and are expected to leave. Many of the people, singles, couples and families, who receive these negative decisions are not unnaturally distressed, and some are vulnerable.
- Following a Home Office negative decision, which is subject to multiple stages of appeal, the failed asylum seeker is given 21 days notice that their taxpayer-funded support – which includes a daily living allowance and free accommodation – will be stopped. What should then happen is that they leave their accommodation, and the country. In practice, many of these people do not leave, which is not surprising because many of them have nowhere obvious to go and if they stay they continue to get free housing.
- At this point, Serco is put in an impossible position: nobody wants to make someone who is in difficult circumstances homeless, and in many cases our housing officers have been caring for these people and, often, their children, for months or years. But Serco is neither a welfare agency, nor a charity; providing accommodation, paying the rent, rates, water, electricity and heating costs a lot of money, and the Home Office, as taxpayers would expect it to be, is rigorous about cutting off support once someone has reached the end of the process, leaving Serco to pick up the bills.
- In Scotland, we have, up until now, chosen not to evict people when the Home Office funding stops. For reasons of humanity, decency and welfare, we have continued to provide free accommodation, entirely at our expense, to failed asylum seekers for months, even years. We ask them to leave; we signpost them to agencies who can support them if they do leave; but we have not taken action to evict them except in cases of unacceptable behaviour. As a consequence, we are currently providing free accommodation to around 330 people who have over-stayed their notice period; about 240 of them have received negative decisions; 88 people had their Home Office support stopped more than six months ago; two people have been with us more than two years. In these respects the pro bono support we give to failed asylum seekers far exceeds that provided by the voluntary sector in Glasgow, and it is therefore extremely upsetting to be accused of being “uncaring”, “callous”, “ignoring the plight of desperate people”, and “putting profit before people”.
- We are now, unfortunately, going to have to change our approach, and we are forced to do so for two reasons:-
- The number of people who are over-staying, and for whom we are providing free accommodation, has almost doubled in a year, from 167 in August 2017 to around 330 now. At this level, we simply cannot afford to continue.
- The unwillingness of other Local Authorities to follow Glasgow’s example in providing support for asylum seekers means that the supply of suitable housing is desperately tight. There are around 180 new asylum seekers arriving in Glasgow each month, at the start of their pathway through the asylum system; many of these people are themselves vulnerable and distressed, and in desperate need of housing. But if the people who have reached the end of their pathway do not move on, the new arrivals may have to be housed in hostels or hotels or other unsuitable accommodation; this is grossly unfair on the new arrivals.
- It is completely untrue to say, as some have claimed, that this issue has come as a surprise, or that there has been a lack of engagement. Charities, officials, MPs and councillors who interest themselves in these matters, knew that there was a growing problem with over-stayers, and that we were going to have to act. We have engaged with all the major stakeholders regularly on this issue, with numerous minuted meetings and email exchanges. Shortly before the storm of recent publicity we agreed with Glasgow City Council a formal “Move On” protocol which sets out the procedure to be followed for lock changes.
- It is completely untrue that “mass evictions” were ever going to happen or even contemplated. We wrote to stakeholders making it plain that we were planning to give lock-change notices to no more than six people in the first week, and twelve in the second. Those who found it expedient to sensationalise for their own purposes a hugely sensitive issue and whip up sentiment by suggesting that hundreds of people were to be made homeless overnight have caused unnecessary concern and distress to the 5,000 or so men, women and children being cared for by us in Glasgow. Shame on them.
Any asylum system has to have a way of supporting people who are unsuccessful in their applications. So far, the main burden of this in Scotland has been born by Serco, and as a consequence hidden from public view. But as the number of people refusing to move on relentlessly increases, as new asylum seekers enter the system, and as the supply of accommodation in Glasgow remains static, we just cannot continue to provide the amount of free accommodation we currently do.
We commit that we will work energetically with Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Government, charities and the Home Office to ease the path of people as they move on at the end of their adjudication process. We will continue to try to persuade other parts of Scotland to take their fair share of asylum seekers, rather than relying on Glasgow.
We provide accommodation and care for some 17,000 men, women and children; nobody understands better than us just how much trauma many of those who seek asylum and protection in our country have suffered. Our Housing Officers see it in their eyes every day. But we need to find practical solutions to a very serious, sensitive and difficult issue of how to manage those people who, at the end of the adjudication process, have not been granted the right to remain in this country and need to move on.
Chief Executive, Serco Group plc