Serco to ‘pause’ asylum seeker lock-change plan as housing associations offer assistance

A protest held against Secro’s lock change programme in Glasgow

Housing provider Serco has said it will “pause” issuing lock-change orders to tenants refused asylum in the UK ahead of a court challenge following pressure from campaigners, charities and housing associations.

The Home Office contractor said it would not begin enforcing the orders until on-going court action had clarified its position.

A Serco statement said of the legal challenge: “This should mean that all parties will get clarity as to how the law will apply to people who refuse to move on from the free accommodation provided to them while their claims for asylum are being adjudicated. We have strong legal advice that our approach is fully within the law, but we think it would be helpful for all interested parties to have the Courts confirm the position.”

Shelter Scotland’s Housing Law Service had been instructed by two of the individuals who had their asylum claims refused and who are threatened with lock-changes and eviction by Serco.

The charity’s legal team presented papers to Glasgow Sheriff Court yesterday morning along with the Legal Services Agency which acts for a third individual to try and get interim orders that will prevent the lock changes threatened to their clients.

Graeme Brown

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Our clients are actively working with immigration lawyers to resolve their asylum claims. Interim orders temporarily stopping the lock changes, will allow this work to continue with our clients having a home to live in.

“This opportunity to potentially secure a delay to the lock changes has arisen following a welcome and encouraging community effort from the many agencies and activists involved in opposing this situation in recent days, highlighting the unacceptable injustice this situation represents.

“Shelter Scotland utterly condemns the decision by Serco to force from their homes individuals and families that have arrived in the city seeking asylum.

“We want the Home Office and Serco to stop this deplorable and inhuman course of action.”

All three cases before the Sheriff Court in Glasgow are to be held together on August 24.

Serco’s move comes as housing associations in Glasgow offered accommodation to those under threat of eviction.

Positive Action in Housing led a campaign to raise awareness, and housing associations across Glasgow who let properties to Serco quickly responded, writing to Serco refusing permission to change locks as well as agreeing to offer support to families involved.

Jim Strang, chief executive of Parkhead Housing Association, said: “By threatening to evict so many people at the same time, Serco is creating a situation where Glasgow’s voluntary sector is completely unprepared for a sudden surge in people needing accommodation and support.

“It is vital that Serco and the Home Office work with local organisations to ensure that large numbers of people do not end up homeless on the streets of Glasgow.”

Shona Stephen, chief executive of Queens Cross Housing Association, said: “Queens Cross HA is strongly opposed to the sudden decision that Serco has taken to evict tenants and is very concerned about the human impact on the people involved. We have been in contact with those households in Queens Cross who might be affected to provide any support we possibly can.

“Over the next few days we’ll continue to keep up the pressure to have Serco’s decision overturned.”

Wheatley Group has also exerted pressure on Serco by announcing its plan to convert the leases of refugees living in its homes, who have a legal right to be in Scotland, into Scottish secure tenancies.

Wheatley subsidiaries GHA and Cube Housing Association currently lease 40 and 34 homes respectively in the city to the contractor and the group has written to its chief executive Rupert Soames to inform him of its plan.

Confirming this in a letter to tenants’ union Living Rent, Martin Armstrong, Wheatley chief executive, said: “Since last week we have been trying, through emails and phone calls to senior managers at Serco, to establish how many, if any, refugees threatened by imminent eviction are living in our homes, and when the evictions are scheduled. Despite insisting on an immediate and urgent response, we have not received answers to our questions.”

The letter added: “I can confirm also we have written to Serco chief executive Rupert Soames to inform him we wish to convert the leases of refugees living in our homes, who have a legal right to be in Scotland and the UK, into Scottish secure tenancies. As you know, this ‘flipping’ of the lease agreement would remove the threat of eviction and is something we have carried out successfully previously.

“Glasgow City Council has been made aware of our position on this matter and we have reiterated also our ongoing offer to support them in providing all humanitarian support necessary to the refugees affected by Serco’s actions.”

Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, hailed the move and said she expected other housing associations to follow Parkhead’s lead.

“Glasgow’s big players in the social housing movement, Parkhead HA, Queens Cross HA, Maryhill and NG Homes, have all now condemned Serco and are making moves to stop their abandonment of vulnerable people,” she said.

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) cautiously welcomed Serco’s pause on evictions and called for a pathway approach to be adopted.

Sally Thomas, chief executive of SFHA, said: “SFHA members have been quick to act, responding with integrity, compassion and common sense in this worrying situation. SFHA is pleased Serco has heeded the housing sector by pausing their plans.

“SFHA calls on Serco to learn lessons from this situation so that going forward a ‘pathway approach’ is adopted so that every person in their care has a clearly defined process and support in place allowing each individual to plan their next steps well in advance of any Home Office decision.”

Govan Law Centre (GLC), which had also brought forward legal proceedings on behalf of asylum seekers threatened with eviction by Serco, said it has won a reprieve for its clients.

Mike Dailly

Mike Dailly, Govan Law Centre’s principal solicitor and solicitor advocate, said: “Serco’s lawyers have written to GLC (Monday) evening to formally confirm that no eviction proceedings will take place against our client and her partner. Accordingly there is no need for an interim interdict hearing at the Court of Session (Tuesday) morning in Edinburgh, but our client’s court action will proceed in terms of the legal principles in dispute.

“We have called upon Serco to put all eviction on hold pending the issues in dispute being ruled on by Scotland’s Supreme Court, the Court of Session. The Office of the Advocate General in Scotland confirmed this evening that our client was now being provided with asylum support for housing and subsistence under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 following a new application for asylum.

“Serco has confirmed no eviction will take place while that is the case, however, our client remains at risk if her support comes to end in the same way as the other 330 asylum seekers under the threat of eviction in Glasgow.

“Initially, Serco sent ‘lock change notices’ to six asylum seekers in Glasgow whose asylum claims had been refused by the Home Office. However, many more removal notices had already been sent out to asylum seekers.

“After GLC lodged proceeded in the Court of Session last Friday – and after pressure from MPs and campaign groups in Glasgow – Serco then agreed to give those six asylum seekers 21 days grace, and to place all other asylum seeker evictions on hold pending a court ruling on the legality of DIY evictions.

“GLC believed this to be an inadequate response. It did not give our client and others proper protection from eviction. Serco publicly ‘unreservedly welcomed’ a legal challenge, ‘as it will enable all parties to clarify an area of Scottish law which has so far been untested’.

“GLC’s point is that there is no possibility that this complex legal dispute can be settled authoritatively within 21 days.

“This is why we are calling on Serco to put all asylum seeker DIY lock-change evictions on hold until the Court of Session can rule on this issue.”

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