Serco loses government’s asylum accommodation contract in Scotland
The private housing provider at the centre of controversy over its plans to evict hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow has lost its asylum accommodation contract for Scotland.
Serco will no longer provide the housing from September this year after the Home Office awarded the contract to Mears Group.
Last year the contractor issued the first in a series of lock-change orders at emergency accommodation throughout the city. Around 300 families, lone men and women, many of whom are fleeing war or persecution in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, faced being made homeless as a result.
Serco was then forced to temporarily pause the action ahead of a court challenge following pressure from campaigners and charities, including a number of city-based housing associations.
Legal action into the lock-change orders being brought by the Govan Law Centre is expected to be heard at the Court of Session this month.
The new Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contracts (AASCs) are replacing the current COMPASS contracts, which were awarded back in 2012.
Contracts worth £1 billion will see Mears provide asylum accommodation and service user support for Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber for ten years.
Serco will still provide a service for the Home Office after securing contracts worth £1.9bn for the North West of England and the Midlands & East of England.
The Mears appointment was cautiously welcomed by the Scottish Refugee Council.
Policy officer Graham O’Neill said: “Over the last seven years we’ve seen too many examples of the impact poor quality accommodation has on people, particularly on children, pregnant women and parents.
“We’ve heard how people have been left in despair after being treated with a lack of dignity and respect from accommodation staff and how frightened people were after Serco locked people out of their homes.
“It is time for a new approach and in Glasgow we welcome this new chapter in supporting people seeking refugee protection.
“Providing housing to people in need is an essential public service and the rights, needs and dignity of people seeking refugee protection must be at the heart of the Mears Group’s work as they take over from Serco.”
Positive Action in Housing director, Robina Qureshi, warned that it is a “bit premature” to welcome the new contracts.
Ms Qureshi said: “It’s an interesting development that Serco ‘lost’ the Scotland contract but won millions of pounds worth of asylum housing contracts elsewhere across England. It is possible Serco gave up the Scotland contract because of the public outcry against turning vulnerable people and families onto the streets without following due process.
“Serco’s contract doesn’t end until September 2019. The Court of Session hearing later this month remains live, the human rights of new refugees and asylum seekers at varying stages of the asylum process remains pertinent.
“Does a housing provider - private or social - have the right to lock a human being and their family out of their homes on the mere assumption of their entitlement without following due process?”
She added: “Its a bit premature to ‘welcome’ the new contract to Mears Group - the history of private run asylum contracts in this city is about the abuse of human rights. Certainly we would be most interested to get a copy of the Mears Group eviction or lock out policy. It would be good to know how much the Mears Group is being paid per night for each person seeking asylum or granted refugee status or leave to remain. We’d also like to be assured that both private and social landlord bodies in Scotland will ensure that their contracts with Mears Group prohibits changes to fixtures and fittings, ie lock changes.
“As for the new housing provider - the Mears group is described as the second biggest social housing ‘specialist’ in the UK employing over 12,000 people.
“We will be watching with interest to see if they follow through on the basic principles of social housing when it comes to the housing of new refugees and asylum seekers at varying stages of the legal process.”
To deliver the contracts, Mears said it will draw on its “outstanding 30 year track record” of providing housing, housing maintenance and care services all across the UK.
The contractor said it is committed to ensuring that asylum accommodation is safe, habitable and fit for purpose and will meet all contractual and regulatory standards.
It added: “Mears understands the importance of supporting each person whilst living in its accommodation and to ensure that as a company it works with the communities in which it delivers services.
“During the Mobilisation period, up to 1st April 2019, Mears will work with the Home Office and service users to make sure that accommodation that is used in the new AASC contract meets the required quality standard. Mears will establish operational teams in each of the areas for which we are responsible so that we are in a position to provide the best possible performance, within the terms of the contract. This will include identifying support needs, managing community cohesion issues, and developing strong partnerships with local authorities and in communities.”
John Taylor, chief operating officer of Mears, said: “Mears provides housing and care to many thousands of people all across the UK, including some who are vulnerable. This experience, combined with our expertise in housing repairs and maintenance, means we are a strong partner for the government to deliver asylum accommodation and support that is safe, habitable and fit for purpose. We will immediately start work on the Mobilisation so that we are ready to meet the needs of asylum seekers and their host communities.”