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Court of Session Appeal is lodged as SERCO restarts asylum evictions in Glasgow

Govan Law Centre is to appeal against the Court of Session decision to dismiss the case of Ali v. Serco Limited, Compass SNI Ltd, and the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The deadline for appeal is Thursday 2nd May 2019.  The appeal is backed by Positive Action in Housing, the homelessness and human rights refugee and migrant rights charity.
The appeal comes as SERCO has restarted the process of lock change evictions, without informing refugee organisations working on the ground – The news may surprise the Glasgow City Council Task-force which is due to meet with SERCO tomorrow Thursday 2 May 2019.
Positive Action in Housing is calling on SERCO to suspend any evictions pending the appeal to the Court of Session. Robina Qureshi, Director said:
 “We strongly support the appeal against the Court of Session judgement and have committed to working with Govan Law Centre, and supporting those families involved in the appeal with crisis support.  Frankly, it is impractical for someone trying to resolve their legal status, and who is being forced out of their home in a matter of days, to get recourse to the First Tier tribunal. The timescales for each process do not match up. On the one hand,  Serco is intent on carrying out lock changes immediately. On the other hand, to get legal recourse from a First Tier Tribunal takes months. By the time the destitute refugee or asylum seeker got to the First Tier Tribunal they would already be destitute or homeless.  So in effect there is no legal recourse. 
“Meanwhile, as of last week (24th April), SERCO has started sending letters of termination to vulnerable asylum seekers and new refugees. The letters we have seen make NO mention of the legal right to seek recourse to the First Tier Tribunal, ineffective as it is. Worse still, the letters tell people to leave immediately, i.e. without notice. Yet SERCO gave a very different impression of the notice they would give in Court. Nor has any discussion taken place with refugee organisations about the resumption of lock change evictions. This is contrary to SERCO’s public statements that it ‘would not be taking any immediate action as a consequence of this (Court of Session judgement), but will now discuss with the Home Office, Glasgow City Council and our other partners how best to proceed’. The Court of Session should be fully cognisant of the games that SERCO appears to be playing, making promises to be reasonable in court, and then telling people to get out immediately”.
The SERCO letters are all dated 24 April and state that:
“The Occupancy Agreement has now ended. The date by which you were required to leave your accommodation (date) is in the past. You should now leave the property. When you do so, please return all keys to either your housing officer or Compass SNI Limited and advise them that you have left. Please leave goods belonging to Compass SNI Limited in the property and take your personal belongings with you.”
The recent cases brought to the attention of Positive Action in Housing  include very vulnerable people, including individuals with severe mental health problems who have self harmed or made serious suicide attempts in response to being made destitute. Housing Officers have begun walking into accommodation without notice, reducing occupants to a state of fear and alarm. In another case, a female asylum seeker made an appeal to refugee charities for a lockable wardrobe, so that SERCO staff would not be able to rifle through her personal belongings looking for home office paperwork.
The court of session 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.
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.
A meeting to discuss the implications of the Court of Session judgement for asylum seekers in Glasgow will take place at Positive Action in Housing on 23rd May 2019. For more information, email home@positiveactionh.org .
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. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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