Serco lock change evictions prevented for five asylum seekers in Glasgow
Glasgow Sheriff Court has granted court orders preventing Serco from evicting five asylum seekers by lock change until the next hearing.
Solicitors Rona Macleod and Alastair Houston from Legal Services Agency and advocate Adrian Stalker represented five asylum seeking clients who had received eviction notices from the housing provider and who were at risk of their locks being changed.
A further hearing is scheduled for week commencing August 7 at which the court may determine the question of whether lock change evictions are legal in Scotland.
Serco’s initial plans to evict more than 300 asylum seekers in Glasgow brought pressure from campaigners and charities, including a number of city-based housing associations. It was then forced to temporarily pause the action ahead of a court challenge.
The private housing provider then announced it was to resume the lock change policy last month.
The asylum seekers had received a notice telling them their right to occupy the property would terminate at 11.59pm on 4 July 2019 and that if they did not leave, Serco would take steps to evict them.
The legal team took urgent action and commenced legal proceedings at Glasgow Sheriff Court, which led to yesterday’s hearing. They argued that eviction without a court order was unlawful in Scots law and the court agreed to grant “interim interdict” orders, which will stop Serco from carrying out any lock change evictions until the next hearing of the case.
Rona Macleod, solicitor at Brown & Co Legal LLP at Legal Services Agency, said: “We welcome the court’s decision today to grant interim interdict for these five people. We maintain that lock change evictions are unlawful in Scotland, and we will not stand idly by and allow this process to continue. We will continue to take any and all steps necessary to assist people in these circumstances.”
At present the bar on lock change eviction only applies to the five asylum seekers whose cases were in court today. Serco has not given any undertaking not to evict other asylum seekers who have been served lock change notices.
A legal challenge brought to the Court of Session by Govan Law Centre on behalf of two asylum seekers facing eviction went in Serco’s favour in April, with Lord Tyre finding its plans for eviction were not unlawful. Govan Law Centre is appealing the judgement. A motion is being called before the First Division of the Inner House on July 9 to ask the court to expedite with an early hearing date.
Robina Qureshi, director of refugee homelessness charity Positive Action In Housing, has urged Serco to step back from “inflicting a humanitarian disaster” on Glasgow.
Ms Qureshi said: “We have looked at the cases referred to us: Out of 32 people who have received letters since April 2019 telling them to leave their accommodation, all except one are in the process of trying to resolve their legal situation. Around half are in Paul Sweeney MP’s constituency in the North of Glasgow. Their countries of origin are mainly Afghanistan, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Susan and Syria, They are fleeing war and persecution, and their cases are complex.
“The people Rupert Soames is evicting are also vulnerable, many are frail, sick and elderly. They don’t know what is happening, they don’t necessarily know their rights. There is a significant number of people who are survivors of torture referred to us by Freedom from Torture and people with severe mental health problems. Those with mental health problems and a history of torture are less likely to be able to resolve their legal cases. This is not a story of failed asylum seekers staying in Serco’s run down housing, it is a story of highly vulnerable people in desperate need of proper support.
“There is confusion about the letters people are getting, some letters sent by Serco are post dated to 20 July 2019, others refer to eviction dates without explicitly stating them. This eviction process is unlike a standard court regulated eviction where a notice to quit is a notice to quit, a sheriff officer’s notice is clearly recognized. Serco has chopped, changed, cut and pasted its ‘eviction’ letters. People and organisations are being left confused. The Home Office is also sending letters and asking people to come in for interviews between 10 and 12 July. This is a form of bureaucratic torture of very vulnerable people. It is a dangerous strategy to push vulnerable people into further despair.
“Fifteen organisations including Glasgow city Mission, British Red Cross and Freedom from Torture and lawyers met in our offices today to discuss the state of play for people at risk of eviction. We are due to meet again on August 14 2019.”
Glasgow MSP Sandra White called on the UK Government to intervene.
She said: “While the news that the lock-change evictions will not go ahead immediately is welcome, the way the UK government has allowed this situation to unfold is outrageous.
“The bottom line is that although these lock-change evictions have been halted because of a legal challenge, it’s a disgrace that they were threatened in the first place.
“Fundamentally this boils down to a Tory policy that is unlawful, inefficient and callous, and has caused distress to hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers across Glasgow.
“The UK Government must immediately intervene to stop these cruel evictions, and come up with a solution that supports people to move on from asylum accommodation without leaving them destitute and homeless.”