In recent weeks, there have been a number of stories in the media concerning alleged mistreatment of vulnerable asylum seekers in Scotland, whilst being cared for under the Compass contract, which is operated by Serco on behalf of the Home Office. Some of these stories have also been raised in Parliament and we therefore think it appropriate that we give an update on our investigations into the stories.
These allegations should be seen in the context of Serco providing care for some 4,600 asylum seekers in Glasgow, housed in 1,860 properties. We have been providing these services since 2012 and over the last two years the numbers of people we look after has increased rapidly.
- Story 1: it was alleged that an asylum seeker has been housed in a flat with ‘blood splattered walls’. On investigation, we have found this story to be untrue. The substance on the walls was found to be fruit juice.
- Story 2: a lady was said to have been seriously injured, having fallen through the floor of her flat. On investigation, the lady said that she had tripped on a single sprung floor-board whilst running through the house, where she had been living without incident for the previous six months. In the fall, she sprained her ankle and her wrist. We offered her alternative accommodation, but, with the floorboard fixed, she said she preferred to stay where she was.
- Story 3: it was claimed that housing officers ‘sprayed air freshener at asylum seekers, while laughing and holding their noses’. We have been given no details of this alleged incident, and we have received no complaints, so we are unable to investigate this claim. On balance, and without any evidence to the contrary, we believe this story to be untrue.
- Story 4: a kitchen was shared by 40 people. This story is substantially correct. In recent months, and due to a shortage of accommodation in Glasgow, we have been using a small hostel as emergency accommodation. The hostel provides a good standard of accommodation and has a capacity for 90 people. However the kitchen is small, so a rota has been organised and the opening hours of the kitchen extended to ensure that all asylum seekers have access to it. Recognising that the catering facilities were less than satisfactory, we are in the process of reducing the number of people using the hostel.
- Story 5: a member of staff was alleged to have taunted service users with handcuffs and told them that they could face deportation if they complained. We have received no complaints of this nature and we have no details of the circumstances behind this allegation, so cannot investigate it.
Rupert Soames, Chief Executive of Serco, said: “We care deeply about the welfare of the 4,600 often vulnerable people we are looking after in Scotland. We have investigated every allegation that has been made, and have found no evidence of mistreatment, and in some cases the stories were overblown or untrue. We have a fantastic team in Scotland providing an outstanding level of care, often in difficult circumstances, and there is no evidence that our people are treating asylum seekers badly. I am sure we do make mistakes from time to time, but where we do, we will ‘fess up to them and work hard to fix them.”
Serco delivers the Compass service in Scotland with our subcontractor Orchard & Shipman on behalf of the Home Office. Before being made available for asylum seeker use, every property is approved by Glasgow City Council and before any new resident moves into a property it is inspected by a professional housing officer. To assure that standards are being maintained, each property is then inspected every 28 days; in addition 20% of the properties are also inspected every month either by the Home Office or by Serco in an audit role.