A COALITION of charities has slammed asylum housing firm Serco after its boss claimed he and the company were being made out to be “devils” over the Glasgow eviction row.

The company, which hit the headlines over attempts to evict 300 failed asylum seekers by changing the locks on their homes, was suffering according to chief executive Rupert Soames because “no good deed ever goes unpunished.”

He said the company had actually continued to house hundreds of would-be refugees for free after government support had ended.

However in a response in the Herald, four charities and an academic continued the war of words and said they were ‘scathingly sceptical’ about any claims of philanthropy on the part of the company, and said the outsourcing of asylum accommodation to profit-driven companies across the UK must end.

They claim: “For seven years, Serco and its former subcontractor Orchard and Shipman were responsible for housing people in the asylum system in Glasgow, and too often in appalling conditions. Charities dealt with constant complaints of ‘vermin-infested, dirty and squalid properties’ from the beginning of the contracts.”

The letter, with signatories from the Scottish Refugee Council, Govan Community Project , Community InfoSource/W-ASH Project , Positive Action in Housing , Shelter Scotland and University of Glasgow researcher Smina Akhtar, says that when complaints were made about the conditions people were asked to put up with, they were often ignored or the response was slow. 

“Local communities do their best to welcome their new neighbours but in our experience that is in spite of Serco, not because of it,” it says. 

Pointing out Serco claims revenues of £3.2 billion which it has credited to having broken records in terms of the contracts it secured this year, it adds: “Asylum accommodation is a commercial decision, about money not people. It has never had anything to do with “good deeds or humanitarianism.”

It has been reported that Serco also accrued £7 million in fines this year, the letter claims, adding: “Almost £3 million of those fines were for unacceptable failings in Glasgow.”

In a letter to the Herald on December 5, Serco chief executive Rupert Soames took issue with a column criticising the firm’s role. He said Serco had continued to house first individuals and then dozens of people who had been refused asylum, even though they had lost financial support and could not pay rent.

“The weeks became years, and the tens became hundreds, and now we are the devils of the piece because we cannot go on like this,” he said. He also accused charities and councils for failing to step in.

But the letter says charities such as SRC and Shelter have stepped up. “When Mr Soames says that ‘no action’ has been taken by charities, he is wrong. 

“Third sector and grassroots organisations have been supporting those affected since Serco began threatening to evict people last summer, whilst lawyers have been fighting this battle in the courts. This is not handwringing or moralising, but rather the fight against an inhumane policy and practice,” it explains.

READ MORE: Court of session rules Serco asylum seeker evictions 'lawful' 

The groups are calling for the law to be changed to end ‘enforced destitution and homelessness’, and the removal of private firms from the process: “It should be an honour to offer protection to people in need, not a money-making opportunity whilst people are left with nothing,” it says. 

A Serco spokesman said: “We have the utmost respect for charities who work so hard to help the homeless, but are disappointed that some seem blind to facts and are convinced that the way to help asylum seekers is to demonise housing providers like Serco. Although we have not seen the whole text of the letter, some of the claims that have been put to us are misleading, out of date, or plain wrong"

He added: "In 2018, the last full year of the Compass contract, we provided on behalf of the Government housing for a daily average of around 5,000 asylum seekers in Glasgow, in 2,000 properties. That is the equivalent of 1.85 million 'people nights' during the year. During the period, we received 237 complaints related to property from asylum seekers or third parties acting on their behalf, which is the equivalent of one complaint for every 7,800 nights of accommodation we provided. By any standard, that is a very low rate of complaints.

"We acknowledge that in 2013 and 2014 the Home Office did levy significant deductions.  However, service levels have improved dramatically since then, and in 2018 the Home Office applied 23 deductions from the value of our Glasgow contract value related to property defects. That is the equivalent of one deduction for every 79,000 nights of accommodation provided.  The total value of contract deductions in the year was around £160,000.

READ MORE: Margaret Taylor: Serco’s a corporate but it should still have social responsibilities

"In terms of maintenance, it is hardly surprising that in a portfolio of 2,000 properties there is a constant stream of repairs which needed to be done, ranging from cracked windows to leaks and to faulty boilers; in 2018, we carried out over 45,000 service tasks.

"The properties we provided were in accordance with national quality standards, and were amongst the most frequently inspected in the UK. We checked all properties monthly, and in addition the Home Office themselves inspected a significant proportion of the properties every year.

"We have never made a profit on the Compass asylum seeker contract. In fact, over the 7-year life of the Compass contract it cost us around £100m more to provide the service than we were paid by the Government."