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Asylum seekers are housed in slum conditions

ASYLUM seekers in Scotland are being housed in overcrowded and poorly maintained slum conditions run by private contractors for the Westminster Government.

Research undertaken by the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) has uncovered shocking examples of unsuitable housing, including a family of four having to share a one-bedroom property for nine months.

Other cases highlighted include multiple unrelated families being housed in small flats, while some individuals feared for their safety after being placed in shared accommodation without lockable doors.

Concerns were also raised about poorly functioning heating systems, with some families reporting having to boil a kettle on a regular basis to have enough hot water to wash their children.

Despite a requirement to provide fully equipped and fully furnished accommodation for asylum seekers, new mothers have been left without any baby equipment, while one man had no bedding for three weeks, according to the report.

The Home Office has contracted out the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers in Scotland to controversial outsourcing firm Serco for the past two years, which in turn sub-contracts the work to property management company Orchard & Shipman.

The SRC, which will publish its findings this week, is calling for the Home Office to carry out a full review to "radically enhance" housing standards for asylum seekers dispersed to Scotland.

Gary Christie, acting chief executive of the SRC, said: "They are dealing with extremely vulnerable people who are going through a very stressful process, who have survived torture, extreme loss and trauma. To be placed in a [housing] situation which is not conducive to their mental health is awful for that individual."

He added: "I think people would be quite shocked at the way in which people are being accommodated. They are destitute, living on little over £5 a day if they are a single person, so there is no way in which they can make any improvements themselves.

"And you are talking about a group sometimes who don't know they can complain, but also don't want to as they may fear it will impact on their asylum decision.

"Having a family of four sharing a one-bedroom flat for nine months is shocking."

The Home Office has a statutory duty under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to provide destitute asylum seekers with housing if they have nowhere else to stay.

It is estimated around 2000 asylum seekers in Glasgow are being housed in a mix of private or social housing under this duty.

Accommodation for asylum seekers was provided by Glasgow City Council for six years, after it became the first council in the UK to sign up to a dispersal programme for asylum seekers in 2000.

Between 2006 and 2011, accommodation was provided through the council, the private Angel Group and the charity Ypeople (formerly YMCA Glasgow).

Under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition at Westminster, Serco subsequently secured the contract to deliver accommodation in Scotland and Northern Ireland through the Home Office's Commercial and Operational Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services (Compass), a new framework which was introduced in 2012.

Serco runs a range of services across Scotland, including operating Kilmarnock Prison, as well as hospital facilities. In May it won a 15-year contract to operate the Caledonian Sleeper train service between Scotland and London Euston.

Last year, along with security firm G4S, it became the subject of an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the Government for tagging prisoners.

A 10-month inquiry into the asylum system carried out by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee published last year highlighted concerns about the "sub-standard" level of housing being provided to asylum applicants and called for greater scrutiny of the housing providers, including Serco, who are receiving "hundreds of millions of pounds in public money".

Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said: "We were alarmed to discover that thousands appear to be living in squalid run-down housing as part of the Compass contract supplied by the private contractors G4S, Serco and Clearel."

The SRC report, which analysed the extent and impact of asylum accommodation problems in Scotland under the Compass contract, has been welcomed by housing charities and organisations.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: "People seeking asylum should be entitled to housing that is safe and secure."

Alan Ferguson, director of professional body the Chartered Institute of Housing (Scotland), said the report raised important issues about some of the conditions asylum seekers are being housed in.

"We know poor housing, whether it involves overcrowding or damp, impacts on people's health and wellbeing," he said. "With the conditions that some asylum seekers have to live in, we would be concerned about their wellbeing, particularly children."

John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, said it was an important report into the experiences of asylum seekers being accommodated in Scotland.

He added: "We are dedicated to promoting excellent tenant-­landlord relationships in Scotland's private rented sector and this commitment extends, of course, to all private landlord stock within which asylum seekers are housed through leasing arrangements under Compass or otherwise."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said the report clearly highlighted concerns about the provision of accommodation to asylum seekers in Glasgow.

She said: "Minister Humza Yousaf visited asylum seekers in their houses with the Scottish Refugee Council this week to discuss with them their accommodation challenges.

"We support the call for a comprehensive review of the current accommodation contract."

She added: "We have made it clear that, in an independent Scotland, housing for asylum seekers would only be provided by the local authority or charities."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and providing safe and secure accommodation while applications are considered.

"We continue to consult with our providers and local authorities to monitor existing agreements and ensure that accommodation quality meets the required standard."

A spokesman for Serco declined to comment. No-one from Orchard & Shipman could be contacted for comment.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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