Glasgow has formally declared a housing emergency in the wake of warnings of social unrest over moves to acclerate the clearance of a backlog of asylum claims by the Home Office.

The social unrest risk emerged as Scotland's biggest council was considering legal action against the Home Office as it fears it will breach the law through being unable to cope with moves to clear the backlog.

Now the council has confirmed that it has declared a housing emergency.

It comes as the council's city administration committee agreed that the "unprecedented pressures" being faced  has forced its hand to make the formal declaration.

It comes on the heels of the Home Office plans to make around 2,500 batched asylum decisions in Glasgow by the end of this year, which could cost the council more than £53m.

The declaration was a recommendation included in an update report to councillors from Councillor Allan Casey, City Convener for Workforce, Homelessness and Addiction Services on the impact of the Home Office decision to streamline the asylum process.

Edinburgh officially declared a housing emergency at the start of the month becoming the first city in Scotland to do so while seeking urgent funding from the Scottish Government to help meet “severe challenges”.

Figures showed approximately 5,000 households in the capital are in temporary accommodation – the highest number in Scotland.

In June, Argyll and Bute Council declared a housing emergency citing a rise in homelessness post-pandemic and an increasing lack of choice.

Glasgow City Council concerns have surfaced while the number of people in the UK waiting for a decision on their asylum claims has risen to a record high while the UK government has set targets to clear the so-called legacy backlog by the end of this year.

The SNP-led council is expecting around 2500 decisions on refugee status to be made by the end of this year, with some 1,800 expected to have leave to remain, which they say will place the "already stretched Homelessness Service under unprecedented pressure".

When a person receives a positive decision, they are normally given 28 days to leave the asylum seeker accommodation provided by housing provider Mears.

Councils have a legal obligation to offer temporary accommodation when they assess a person or household as unintentionally homeless but there are concerns Glasgow will not be able to handle the number of cases that are being rushed through this year.

It is feared that it will cost the “already stretched” homelessness service more than £53m in 2024/25 but officials have been told that the UK government will not provide financial support.

But there is already an overspend of £21.4m, including £10.1m overspend in Homelessness Services while it has has sought to cut back on its use of high cost hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation.

And it is predicted Glasgow's homelessness services will be left with a £70.1m budget black hole in the next financial year.

The Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) - an amalgamation of Glasgow City Council and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde which delivers community health and social care services - has flagged concerns of the potential for social unrest.

The declaration was a recommendation included in an update report to councillors from Allan Casey, city convener for workforce, homelessness and addiction services on the impact of the Home Office decision to streamline the asylum process.

The Herald: Councillor Allan Casey  Picture: Mark Gibson

He said: “There is no doubt that the pressures we are facing constitute an emergency. We agree with partners that we urgently need resources to help us deal with these added pressures.

“We also need the UK Government to pause their unconscionable asylum-batching decision, which is already increasing homelessness and destitution, until they work with us to put a proper plan in place and commit to fully funding their decision.

“As our report outlines, referrals from Mears, the company which currently provides accommodation for those awaiting asylum decisions here in Glasgow, have doubled in recent months.

“The city is experiencing an overwhelming increase in people presenting as rough sleepers as well as a significant rise in individuals, from elsewhere in the UK, seeking assistance here in Glasgow.”

The declaration came after housing campaigners including the Scottish Tenants' Organisation pushed the council to make it.

The council will continue to lobby Scottish and UK Governments for appropriate funding and legislative change to respond to this housing emergency.

Shelter Scotland  welcomed the declaration and its director Alison Watson told councillors:  “The declaration of a housing emergency must be just the beginning of a journey for Glasgow – one which ends with everyone in the city having somewhere warm, safe, and secure to call home.” 

The HSCP has said there is a need to find alternative temporary accommodation with the use of rest centres - similar to that considered for Ukranian arrivals in the wake with the war with Russia.

In Ireland hundreds of vacant 'rest centre' beds were made available and the vacant accommodation consisted of camp-bed style lodgings in the likes of parish halls and community centres.

And plans are in place to find large properties owned by Glasgow City Council that can be utilised as first stop accommodation for refugees with positive decisions.

The HSCP says it acknowledge these arrangements will be "less than adequate" and will likely generate legal challenge and "reputational risk" as well as exacerbating "longer term health and wellbeing problems" for those affected.

Before the asylum "crisis", campaigners raised fears of a "meltdown" over the handling of homelessness in Glasgow and it has emerged that according to a June analysis the Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) was already 1600 lets short of the 4500 it needs annually.

Susanne Millar, chief officer of the HSCP in a new analysis predicted that the unrest would be the result of of "the acceleration of asylum seekers leaving Mears properties".

The HSCP is now planning to to take on nine additional staff - including a full time janitor and security guard - over a two to three year fixed term to deal with the asylum crisis at a total cost of £509,892.

It says Glasgow Homelessness Services is already experiencing a steady increase in judicial reviews in relation to providing accommodation. And they warn this is likely to increase given the "lack of available accommodation and the HSCP inability to fulfil some statutory functions".

The service is now reporting a shift in the proportion of positive asylum seekers residing in hotels. Positive asylum seekers now account for 170 out of the existing 710 residing in hotels which is increasing weekly.

Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken has said the council had been liaising with Home Office officials over what she called "unconscionable plans" to clear the asylum backlog saying the council knows that there are "severe risks that this will unduly impact vulnerable people in our communities".

The Herald:

Current data shows that 74% of households within the Asylum and Refugee Support Team are currently occupying temporary accommodation. Assuming this remains constant, the additional positive decisions will mean that 1,026 of the 1,386 households are likely to require temporary accommodation pending an offer of settled accommodation being made.

A council analysis says it is not clear where additional lets could be found. They say if accommodation cannot be sourced, this "could lead to an increase in rough sleeping".

It is estimated that there is likely to be around 700 negative asylum decisions.

These households will have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), and therefore have no rights to access homelessness services.

Three areas of Scotland, including Glasgow, were highlighted as areas where there is a greater risk of destitution as the UK government seeks to clear a backlog on asylum claims for hundreds across the country.

The British Red Cross has estimated that 53,100 asylum seekers who are seeking refugee status will be at risk of being without a home across the UK if the Government clears the backlog on decisions.

The charity said that even if decision-making on asylum claims is not sped up and the target not met, 26,000 people could still be at risk of destitution and homelessness.

It is understood that the charity highlights three Scots local authority areas where there is particular housing pressures for people in asylum accommodation - Glasgow City, City of Edinburgh and South Lanarkshire.

The Glasgow City Council area was earmarked as having the highest housing pressure of any local authority in Scotland while housing 4,267 in asylum accommodation. The pressure on housing is rated at ten out of a scale of one to ten.

The Red Cross has said that with the 28 day ‘move-on’ process – the time given to refugees to move from asylum support to mainstream benefits or employment – having changed, it has left some people with as little as seven days to move out of their asylum accommodation.

The charity warns this could lead to devastating levels of destitution saying it is "simply not enough time for most people".

Home Office figures show that more than 175,000 people were waiting for a decision on whether they will be granted refugee status at the end of June 2023 - up 44% from last year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set targets to clear the backlog by the end of the year in December 2022.

Officials have cleared on average 2,061 of those cases a month since then.

With 67,870 of the legacy cases remaining, the Home Office would have to process around 11,311 of them per month if it is to meet its target.

The Red Cross say that while more decisions are being made on asylum claims due to the streamlined asylum process it is putting an increasing amount of pressure on local authorities to support people to find housing quickly.

An asylum seeker is a person who flees their home country, enters another country and applies for the right to international protection and to stay in that country.

In the UK, asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and must rely on state support. Housing is provided, but asylum seekers cannot choose where it is.