A ruling from Lord Tyre in the Court of Session casts a bleak future for asylum seekers and their rights to housing.
The Court deemed Serco’s action of evicting former asylum seekers in Glasgow to be complying with the law, provoking concerns that this marks a “dangerous precedent” which has the potential to have “profound consequences.”
Serco is a private outsourcing company that was employed by the UK Government and until recently, was in charge of providing appropriate housing for asylum seekers. It came into the media limelight for notoriously evicting asylum seekers before they had chance to appeal by changing the locks on their temporary housing in 2018. Serco began the process by informing residents with eviction notices, yet did not seek a court order to do so which is usually considered illegal in Scotland.
Serco’s shady reputation precedes itself: not only has it failed vulnerable people at every turn but its performance has failed consecutively between April 2013 and December 2018, excluding only March 2016. Serco has been fined almost £7 million in response to its pattern of failures that include “squalid, unsafe, slum housing conditions” and poor property standards.
“Nobody should be forced into destitution and homelessness with nowhere safe to go.”Sabir Zazai of Scottish Refugee Council
Despite losing the housing contract in the summer of 2019, Serco is still responsible for the asylum seekers assigned to the housing they currently provide.
In a case taken up by the Court of Sessions, former asylum seeker Shakar Omar Ali, lost to Serco as the Court upheld its decision that Serco was acting lawfully when it distributed eviction notices to failed asylum seekers. Ms Ali was deemed not to be a rightful tenant of the property once her asylum case was closed as her occupancy was “temporary” and that the threat of eviction did not meet the “minimum level of severity” to be considered a breach of human rights. This was because the new ruling disturbingly found Serco could not be considered a public body in which the Human Rights Act does therefore not apply.
However, in the complex arena of asylum cases and law, asylum cases are taking longer to process than ever before with waiting times typically rocketing past six months. Home Office decision-makers frequently make the initial verdict on asylum cases wrong, meaning those seeking asylum have a better chance at securing refugee status by going to an appeal.
“[There are] profound consequences for how people’s rights are protected when public services are delivered by private providers.”Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission
It is ludicrous that Serco grants vulnerable individuals a mere 21 days to find alternative accommodation when failed asylum seekers have nowhere else to go, no funding and have no legal status to procure secondary accommodation. At this point, they also stand afoot a lengthy court appeal battle to try to overturn the Home Office’s decision, which they must file for in 14 days while also finding a Legal Aid lawyer to take on their case. They might even need to find a translator to help them comb through complex documents.
The friction with Serco emerges as the Home Office only pays for asylum-seekers accommodation while they await a verdict on their claim. As soon as asylum-seekers receive a rejection letter, the Home Office stops supporting them until an official appeal claim is lodged.
Now that Serco has won its court challenge, the company plans on evicting around 300 more asylum seekers.
Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said:
“We have serious concerns about the implications of this ruling, both for the people directly affected and for the protection of human rights more broadly. The court’s findings that Serco is not acting as a public authority in this context, and therefore is not bound by human rights legal obligations, has profound consequences for how people’s rights are protected when public services are delivered by private providers.”
Scottish organisations and asylum-seeker rights charities are exploring what is going to be the best way to support the community going forward. Goven Law Centre is appealing the judgment.
Sabir Zazai, Chief Executive at Scottish Refugee Council, said:
“We are collaborating with organisations across Glasgow to try to provide emergency shelter and service. We are also pushing for fundamental and urgent reform to the UK’s asylum system. Nobody should be forced into destitution and homelessness with nowhere safe to go.”
Annika Joy, chair of the Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seeker’s board, echoed Zazai’s statement, labelling the decision as “not humane.”