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Court of Session rules on legality of SERCO’s lock change policy

Lock change evictions without court orders will go ahead – Court of Session says asylum seekers should instead appeal to First Tier Immigration Tribunal.

The Court of Session has dismissed the cases of Rashidi and Ali v. Serco Limited, Compass SNI Ltd, and the Secretary of State for the Home Department

In a complex and comprehensive Opinion, the court has held that lock-change evictions by Serco are not incompatible with the Human Rights Act because asylum seekers have a right of appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum) against a decision to terminate their accommodation. 

Serco and the Home Office had argued that Serco was not subject to the Human Rights Act as its services were of a private nature in law. The court did not accept that argument, however, it did find that the availability of a right of appeal to the First Tier Tribunal was sufficient to satisfy the human rights of asylum seekers threatened with a lock-change eviction.

This is disappointing for asylum seekers across Glasgow who have been threatened with lock-change evictions.

Rupert Soames’ outsourcing giant SERCO can now lawfully change locks and evict asylum seeker families, women and men onto the streets of Glasgow without a court order.

Positive Action in Housing’s Director Robina Qureshi said:

We hoped the Court of Session would put a stop to summary evictions of vulnerable people without court orders. Lock change evictions without court orders look to be the norm in Glasgow for the next ten years, which of course is in keeping with the UK government’s Hostile Environment policy.

“A humanitarian crisis in the city looks set to follow and we will see hundreds more people being left destitute in Glasgow each year of the next ten year contract.

“SERCO can safely resume lock changes and evictions without court orders or due process. There is no legal protection for refugee families and individuals whose shelter will be determined by assumptions made about their legal status by their housing provider, not the Home Office. Legal status can change.

“SERCO is free to turn vulnerable people out onto the streets of Glasgow to make way for newly dispersed asylum families and individuals who the Home Office will pay for. As soon as those payments stop, a new wave of evictions will happen, without due process or scrutiny.

“Glasgow is therefore set to see an increased number of destitute refugees and asylum seekers in the coming weeks and months while SERCO profits from the misery of asylum seekers, as a result of the Court of Session judgment, and we anticipate a humanitarian crisis in the city.

“We are still looking at what non-legal measures are needed to prevent lock changes and evictions going ahead. Given that the court order route is now off limits, we therefore urge every single private landlord and housing association in Glasgow that is leasing their properties to SERCO to take a firm stance to protect the human rights of vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow. Housing after all is a basic human right.

“The Scottish Landlords Association and the SFHA and their members who lease to SERCO have an important role to play in setting standards.

“If the law won’t reign in profiteering landlords then these membership bodies and individual housing associations or private landlord have the power to put in writing practices they consider to be civilised exit arrangements in keeping with the ethos of social housing for vulnerable people.

“They can for example put in place clauses to prevent the altering of fixtures and fittings i.e. locks. They can also insist on a humane standard protocol, that is written and publicly available, for how asylum seekers are to be put out from their properties, in the absence of a legal route.

Any asylum seeker threatened with a lock-change eviction in Scotland will need to challenge that decision by lodging an urgent appeal to the First Tier Immigration Tribunal. The practicalities of people being able to do so are challenging and not always straight-forward, and Positive Action in Housing will explore ways in which we can support those threatened with eviction by working with our partners and directly supporting refugees and asylum seekers affected in this way through proactive casework and emergency support. 

It will be necessary for people to first ask the Home Office for continued support and accommodation in terms of section 95 or section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. If that is refused, it will then be necessary to appeal that decision.

Asylum seekers have a huge range of restrictions on their legal rights in the UK. They do not enjoy the same rights as the rest of the community, to welfare benefits, to work and to secure accommodation.

The charity’s room for refugees hosting network is set to see increased pressure on its resources. Anyone who is interested in offering a spare room or property temporarily in Glasgow to families and individuals affected by lock change evictions should register online at wwww.roomforrefugees.com  or give a donation at  www.positiveactionh.org/donate 

Notes to editors

  1. Positive Action in Housing is an independent, anti-racist homelessness and human rights charity (SC027577) dedicated to supporting women, children and men from refugee and migrant backgrounds to rebuild their lives. We believe in a society where everyone has the right to live safe and dignified lives, free from poverty, homelessness or inequality. We assist those seeking sanctuary from war and persecution to overcome crisis situations, for example, the removal of basic human rights such as refuge, shelter, the right to work or hold a bank account. We support migrants to know their rights, secure paid work and stabilise their lives. We assist established ethnic minority communities to overcome bad housing. We offer welfare advice and money skills. We provide volunteering and training. We offer advice, crisis grants, and free shelter to those at risk of destitution through Room for Refugees, a refugee hosting programme (www.roomforrefugees.com).
  2. In the financial year 2017-18, Positive Action in Housing assisted 1,400 destitute and homeless refugees and asylum seeker families and individuals. Around 95% were still midway in fighting for legal resolution to their asylum claims. They are not failed but the Home Office refused to pay for their shelter or let them work.
  3. Court of session judgement: https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/cos-general-docs/pdf-docs-for-opinions/2019csoh34.pdf?sfvrsn=0
  4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-47908150