Glasgow city council has called on the Home Office to allay “widespread fear and alarm” among the city’s 5,000 asylum seekers after the private housing provider Serco confirmed plans to begin a rolling programme of evictions of people it classes as “over-stayers”.
The concerns were raised as lawyers lodged a legal challenge to one asylum seeker’s eviction notice from Serco, at Scotland’s highest court, the court of session, on Thursday afternoon.
Serco said it would evict people who have been told they cannot stay in Britain, and earlier this week started serving serving individuals with notice to vacate their accommodation within seven days or face removal and their locks being replaced.
The Home Office on Thursday said that 100 of those identified overstayers, who have been granted asylum, would not be subject to Serco’s lock-change policy.
Councillor Jennifer Layden, Glasgow’s equalities and human rights convener, said: “The lock change announcement by the Home Office and Serco has caused widespread fear and alarm among asylum seekers in Glasgow. There is confusion and panic among the community – some of whom have limited English and who may not be affected by Serco’s announcement. Both Serco and the Home Office have a responsibility to put this vulnerable group at ease.”
Layden referred to a written response from Serco’s chief executive, Rupert Soames, released on Wednesday, in which he denied that Serco planned to make hundreds of people immediately homeless, saying that it planned to give lock-change notices to “no more than six single adult males this week and 12 the next”. He also confirmed that Serco was still seeking a “longer-term solution” for 330 over-stayers, 230 of whom had been refused asylum and a further 100 who had been granted leave to remain in the UK.
Layden said: “Yesterday, we have received correspondence from Serco stating they will stagger the lock-changing of the properties of the 300-plus affected individuals. We are seeking assistance from the Home Office and Serco in identifying the 100 affected individuals who have been granted asylum and are affected by the Home Office’s plans.”
She disputed Serco’s claim that it had undertaken “any meaningful engagement” with the city council or third-sector partners about the eviction programme. Serco insists it has “engaged extensively with stakeholders”.
A Home Office spokesperson said nobody with an outstanding asylum claim would be affected: “Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation while applications are considered. We also cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs.
“While an asylum claim or an appeal is outstanding, we would not be seeking removal. If the courts have decided that someone has no right to remain in the United Kingdom it is right that they should leave the UK.
“However, if an asylum claim has failed, we will still provide accommodation for those who would otherwise be destitute and who are temporarily unable to leave the UK because of a practical or legal obstacle.”
The leader of Glasgow city council, Susan Aitken, along with Glasgow MPs from all political parties except the Scottish Conservatives, has written to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, calling for him to intervene in what she described as a potential humanitarian crisis. Aitken explained that the council was legally prevented from housing failed asylum seekers, while local housing charities did not have the capacity to assist so many people.
The Guardian understands that Javid will be making contact with Serco and the Scottish government about the issue within the next few days.
Mike Dailley of Govan Law Centre lodged papers with the court of session in Edinburgh on Thursday, challenging the eviction notice served by Serco on one individual. Dailley believes that the notice may be illegal because Scots common law prohibits eviction without due process of law against residential occupiers. However, Serco argues that its action are legal, stating: “The Rent Scotland Act 1984 generally requires a court order to evict a tenant, but there is a specific exemption to the Act which means that such an order is not required for people within the asylum system.”
Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South West, who represents the individual facing eviction, told the Guardian: “We believe that this matter should be tested against Scottish housing legislation. There is great concern amongst Glaswegians that this is an unjust and inhuman way to treat vulnerable individuals.”