No More Serco in Scotland: Home Office Appoints New Contractor

The Home Office have selected a new contractor for the provision of housing to asylum seekers in Scotland.

This has been seen by many as a hugely positive announcement, with previous contractor Serco’s tenure characterised by controversy. Serco were widely derided for their decision to change the locks on a number of properties in Glasgow, that were occupied by asylum seekers who had been denied leave to remain. Many of those affected experienced homelessness and destitution as a result. Given that asylum seekers have the right to appeal in the event of their asylum application being refused, the actions of Serco were perceived by many to be unlawful.

There appeared to be a focus on simply evicting those whose application had been rejected, rather than acting with humanity and prioritising the wellbeing of those affected.

Mears, the new contractor, have made a deal with Scottish housing association groups regarding how the service will be provided. Mears have pledged to improve the support for asylum seekers by working to prevent destitution. In addition, they have stated that forced evictions and lock changes will be replaced by proper court procedures.

It is hoped that lock change evictions will now become a thing of the past [Image: AOL]

Both the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and the West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations (GWSF) were involved in the formation of the deal with Mears, which pledges to take an approach that ‘best supports service users.’ Speaking on behalf of SFHA, Polly Jones stated that ‘together with our members, SFHA and GWSF have secured a commitment with Mears to prevent any asylum seeker facing destitution’.

There appeared to be a focus on simply evicting those whose application had been rejected, rather than acting with humanity and prioritising the wellbeing of those affected.

In light of Serco changing the locks on around 300 properties in Glasgow, a legal challenge was mounted. It argued that the forced evictions of asylum seekers who had been refused the right to remain in the UK were unlawful without a court order. The legal challenge was dismissed by a judge earlier this year. However, the decision is now being appealed. Now that Serco have been replaced by Mears, the situation for asylum seekers who were housed under Serco’s tenure has changed.  For those who had received a decision from the Home Office regarding their asylum application, it is now permissible to remain in accommodation until the appeal process against the court’s decision has reached its conclusion.

This is hugely positive as the lives of those affected can remain the same, at least until an official legal decision is made.

What have Mears said that they will do differently?

Mears have stated that going forward, ‘asylum seekers in Glasgow will no longer face eviction without a court order being issued’. Whilst the exact details of how the provision of housing will be administered under Mears is unclear, the service provider have stated that it had agreed an approach for ‘move on’ at the end of the asylum application process that best supports service users. A spokesperson went on to say that they would hope to avoid a court order, as ‘there is always a better way of supporting the service user’.

The contractor asserted that they will ensure that service users have constant access to advice and support from Migrant Help, the Home Office’s AIRE provider. Mears believe that this will ensure that the best outcome is reached. They have stated that when necessary, the relevant local authority will be notified in order to enable the move-on process.

This is hugely positive as the lives of those affected can remain the same, at least until an official legal decision is made.

Glasgow is a city with a large asylum seeker community [Image: The Student Newspaper]
What was Serco’s approach?

Serco’s policy was to change the locks on the properties occupied by those who had reached the end of their asylum application process. Serco explained this course of action by stating that no money was received for accommodation occupied by asylum seekers whose state support had been withdrawn. The contractor- whose revenue exceeded £2.8bn in 2018- stated that those who stayed in accommodation after support had been withdrawn were costing them £1m a year.

The lack of dialogue with tenants was clearly a major issue- asylum seekers were only given 14 days’ notice after the decision to evict had been made.

[Header Image: GMA Blog]

Written by
Cameron Boyle
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