The multinational service corporation Serco, which faced widespread criticism after entanglement in highly public controversy over intentions to carry out a lock-changing eviction process, has lost its contract to accommodate asylum seekers in Scotland.
Contracted by the Home Office to provide housing for asylum seekers, Serco has faced long term opposition from housing and refugee campaigners for several years after complaints of inadequate accommodation supplied by the firm.
Serco faced criticism last summer, with the company’s announcement of plans to begin an eviction process on the homes of asylum seekers whose claims for refugee status in Glasgow had been rejected. Serco validated these movements by stating that under the terms of the contract, they no longer had obligations towards those of rejected status. 330 rejected claimants fell under threat of intended evictions.
In response, protests took place throughout Glasgow, with hunger strikes by several concerned asylum seekers. The appeal generated widespread cross-party support, with legal services offering their assistance to those facing eviction. The planned lock-changing strategy was paused in August as a result of legal actions opposing evictions at the Court of Session and Glasgow Sheriff Court.
The Director of Serco’s Immigration business, Julia Roberts gave a statement on behalf of the company, claiming they are ‘obviously disappointed’ with result of the Scottish contract: “Our job now is to complete the contract to the highest standard over the next nine months and hand over to the new provider in September.”
However, recent allegations reported to Living Rent over the Christmas period have surfaced detailing some tenants yet again being threatened with eviction and having basic household utilities limited by the corporation.
The housing contract, which will terminate in September, has been granted to the Mears Group, a UK based housing, and social care provider. The Mears Group has detailed its determination to concentrate on improving inadequate housing standards with a focus on housing management and reparations. The Scottish Refugee Council has emphasised support for the new contract announcement with obvious caution, viewing this transition as a constructive opportunity for improvement of the rights and treatment of asylum seekers.
Scottish Refugee Council Policy Officer, Graham O’Neil, has stated, “It is time for a new approach and in Glasgow, we welcome this new chapter in supporting people seeking refugee protection.”
He furthermore wishes to encourage collaborative efforts of the Mears Group with Glasgow City Council- emphasising this body to have prominent responsibility in upholding safe and suitable standards of housing: “We look forward to working alongside the Mears Group to make sure that anyone seeking refugee protection in Scotland is able to begin rebuilding their lives in safe, secure and appropriate accommodation.”
Glasgow’s City Convener for Equalities and Human Rights, Jennifer Layden, has encouraged this ethos of transparency and cooperation, stating: “Given the UK Government remains ideologically wedded to the privatisation of the asylum accommodation contracts, the Home Office must now commit to ensuring that Mears performs significantly better than their predecessors in providing support to vulnerable people, and, crucially, how they approach partnership working with the council.”