Hundreds of asylum seekers are facing eviction after an accommodation provider announced it is to begin a long-planned lock-changing programme.
Serco, which provides housing arrangements to around 300 people in Glasgow, first announced that it was issuing notices to tenants who had been denied the right to remain in the UK last July.
A legal challenge from two asylum seekers against the measure in April argued that their eviction would be unlawful without a court order – however, it was dismissed by a judge.
In January it was also revealed that Serco had lost the Home Office contract in Scotland, which will be delivered by Mears Group after September.
The company said it is “not a step we have taken lightly”, but will now restart the lock-change programme and return any housing it rents in the city to its owners at the end of the leases.
Julia Rogers, Serco’s managing director for immigration, said: “We very much regret the distress this will cause, but hope that it will be understood that we cannot be expected to provide free housing indefinitely to hundreds of people who have been unsuccessful in their asylum claims and most of whom have no legal right to remain in the UK.
“We call on all parties to work with us constructively to help people navigate their way through to a new future beyond the asylum system, and we will be making funds available to charities to support this work.”
We very much regret the distress this will cause, but hope that it will be understood that we cannot be expected to provide free housing indefinitelyJulia Rogers, Serco
The programme will be rolled out over the next four months with the company saying “no more than 30 people” will be issued with lock-change notices in any one week.
Almost all are single adult men and women, and Serco said “no children will be left without housing”.
People will be given “at least 21 days’ notice so they can make alternative arrangements” and the firm said it will continue working with the Home Office and Glasgow City Council in the months ahead.
Serco also said it will make up to £150,000 available to charities supporting homeless people in Glasgow.
Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken has written to UK Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes about the “deeply concerning development” and said the “‘no recourse to public funds policy’ renders local authorities powerless to respond”.
She added: “In order for Glasgow City Council to provide support, I would have to instruct officers to break the law.
“It is a sorry and utterly unacceptable state of affairs when a UK Government contract legally obliges its contractor to force people from their homes and leave public servants to choose between either breaking the law or allowing mass destitution on the streets of our city.
“When we spoke about this last year, I asked you to give me an undertaking that future lock changes would not take place and warned that, if that did not happen, we would simply repeat the cycle of me having to protest to you about an imminent homelessness crisis in my city. I deeply regret that this has come to pass.
“I therefore ask once again that, as Minister for Immigration, you intervene, firstly, to prevent these planned evictions taking place and, secondly, to prevent future repetition of this situation.
“If there is no satisfactory resolution to this matter, one which accepts the inevitable consequences of lock changes and prevents them occurring, then Glasgow will have no alternative but to consider what, if any, future it can have in an asylum dispersal programme which allows for the imposition of such inhumane practices, against the express wishes and values not only of Glasgow City Council, but also of the citizens and communities we serve.”
Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie tweeted: “Grim news, as the multi-billion-pound business @SercoGroup once again threatens to create mass destitution in Glasgow, while the @ukhomeoffice looks on approvingly.
“Emergency accommodation has long been demanded, and must be put in place immediately.”
The Scottish Government’s Communities Secretary, Aileen Campbell, has also written to Ms Nokes.
She said: “Rupert Soames, CEO of Serco, wrote to me yesterday to announce that Serco will be restarting the eviction of people from asylum accommodation.
“I am extremely disappointed at this turn of events, which Glasgow City Council estimates will impact 300 homes.
“As I and others have repeatedly made clear, the conclusion of this sorry situation must not be that people are made destitute and homeless, with the local authority and third sector organisations being left to pick up the pieces. The Home Office has to live up to its responsibilities.
“It is not acceptable to leave the asylum accommodation provider to deal with the inevitable results of a flawed system, and to wash your hands of the consequences.
“There must be a solution that supports people to move on from asylum accommodation without leaving them destitute and homeless.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Office takes the wellbeing of asylum seekers and the local communities in which they live extremely seriously.
“We have and will continue to work closely with local authorities and partners to ensure that those who have no right to be in the UK leave their accommodation in a safe and secure way.
“We have been working with Glasgow City Council and other partners to ensure those at risk of potential eviction have the necessary advice on their options.”
Govan Law Centre, which represents an asylum seeker who is appealing against the judge’s ruling in April, said it does not believe the lock-changes should go ahead until the appeal is dealt with.
Mike Dailly, solicitor advocate at Govan Law Centre, said: “We believe it is extraordinarily unjust that Serco will carry out 300 lock-change evictions (30 per week, commencing from next week) relying upon a court judgment that is subject to live legal proceedings before Scotland’s supreme appellate court, the Inner House of the Court of Session.”