As evictions from privatised asylum housing continue, important new legal challenges are being mounted in the courts.
On Monday 28 January the latest round of the Glasgow evictions saga which began two years ago took place in the Glasgow Sheriff Court. At a hearing adjourned from October 2012, Scottish homelessness charity Ypeople (formerly the YMCA) sought to evict the remaining refused refugees in its properties, prior to handing over to new contract-holder Serco. But as Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees (GCtWR), trade unions and other campaigning organisations squeezed in to the smallest courtroom in the building, they heard a number of cases adjourned until April, to enable full legal argument to take place on the legality of government policy of using destitution as a deterrent.
Until Serco was awarded the contract to house asylum seekers in Scotland in February 2012, Ypeople’s policy was not to create more homelessness by evicting refused asylum seekers. But as Serco began evictions very soon after the takeover, some 80 people who had been housed by Ypeople at its own expense following refusal of their asylum claims also received eviction notices. Following a public outcry, Ypeople worked with the Scottish Refugee Council and the City Council to ensure that the most vulnerable were accommodated.
The evictions reached the court in October 2012, when they were widely expected to go through without opposition. But unusually, a number of the asylum seekers were represented by lawyers, who raised arguments that evictions would breach human rights law if they jeopardised physical or mental health. Their cases were held over until January. In advance of that hearing, trade unions including Unite and the Fire Brigades Union, and Green Party representatives voiced their support for the asylum seekers. Green Party Councillor Martha Wardrop said forced homelessness and destitution ‘should not be tolerated’, while the FBU and Unite spokespersons said the policy of deliberate destitution shamed all in public life who co-operate or refuse to condemn it.
At the January hearing, at which the cases were adjourned to 16 April, there was doubt as to who the landlord was – whether Ypeople were still landlords or whether it was now Serco or its accommodation provider, the huge private property company Orchard and Shipman. GCtWR chair Jock Morris said the group, and lawyers acting for the asylum seekers, would be asking for the adjourned hearing to take place in a larger courtroom, in view of the public interest involved. The case could set a precedent in holding private accommodation providers who perform public contracts to the human rights standards expected of the public sector, and in preventing the eviction of the vulnerable no matter what their status.
Read an IRR News story: ‘Glasgow: the evictions begin’
Read an IRR News story: ‘Solidarity with asylum seekers facing eviction’