Scotland politics

MPs to probe claims of asylum seekers locked out of homes

Many asylum seekers live in Orchard & Shipman housing in Glasgow's Govan area
Image caption Many asylum seekers live in Orchard and Shipman housing in Glasgow's Govan area

A committee of MPs is to launch an inquiry into private companies providing accommodation to asylum seekers in Glasgow.

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee will investigate claims of mistreatment by housing provider Orchard and Shipman.

BBC Scotland has reported allegations that refused asylum seekers were locked out of their homes by the company.

Orchard and Shipman denies any wrongdoing and breaching guidelines.

Labour's Keith Vaz MP, the Westminster committee chairman, visited asylum seekers in Glasgow on Friday.

He told the BBC that he believed the standard of accommodation in the city was worse than in other parts of the UK housing asylum seekers.

"It's a system that's in crisis, there's no doubt about it," he said.

The committee will call representatives from Orchard and Shipman and Serco, which subcontracts the service to the company, to give evidence to its inquiry.

Image caption Keith Vaz confirmed that the committee would start its work in June

Orchard and Shipman is the only company providing asylum accommodation to have not already given evidence to the committee, which has previously investigated the housing of asylum seekers in England and Wales.

Mr Vaz also confirmed that the committee would start its work in June in order to complete a report before the contracts to house asylum seekers across the UK are renewed next year.

The Home Secretary Theresa May will appear before the committee next week.

"Before the Home Secretary signs the next contract, the committee will have things to say," he told the BBC.

"So we will conclude our inquiry in plenty of time for the Home Secretary to be able to reflect on it before she signs the new contracts."

'Two-tier system'

Mr Vaz said he was concerned that the UK government was providing a better standard of care to those escaping the conflict in Syria than to those seeking asylum via the previously-existing system.

"At the moment, we seem to have a two-tier system," he said.

"An excellent system for the vulnerable persons who have come under the Syrian scheme and a second system that does not seem to be working."

Campaigners have previously criticised the decision by the Home Office in 2012 to change the way in which asylum seekers were housed in the UK.

Agreements with local providers and councils in different areas of the country were replaced by multi-million pound contracts, known collectively as the COMPASS contract, with three large private providers - G4S, Serco and Clearel - which then subcontract the work to smaller firms.

Mr Vaz said this arrangement would be the focus of the inquiry announced today.

"The committee did warn Theresa May before she signed the COMPASS contract that it was wrong to go away from local providers and to three companies, two of which are multinational companies making multi-million profits."

Following the allegations broadcast by the BBC, politicians renewed calls for an inquiry into the provision of asylum accommodation.

Mr Vaz today said that he believed that an independent inquiry was still an option but that this would take longer to complete than the one his committee will carry out.

He said: "I think that we will conclude this inquiry pretty rapidly, but thoroughly. Then it might be appropriate to go further, if people are not able to come before us.

"We've never had a circumstance where a witness has failed to appear when we've asked them to appear. So I'm confident that we have the powers to do this inquiry."

The BBC investigation was told of allegations that asylum seekers could have been locked out of their homes in breach of agreed eviction guidelines.

'Notice period'

An ex-employee of Orchard and Shipman said this "brutal" practice was leaving people homeless.

The company said it routinely changed locks only after "the vacation of both granted and refused asylum seeker departures".

It said that, at its own expense, it "often continues to provide support for both failed and successful asylum seekers following receipt of their decision letter from the Home Office and the relevant notice period".

A spokesman added: "We are currently housing around 40 refused asylum seekers - the most vulnerable - including elderly, disabled and families with children."

Orchard and Shipman has managed the £221m Home Office contract for asylum seeker accommodation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, on behalf of international service company Serco, since September 2012.

Asylum seekers in Scotland come from all over the world including Somalia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Eritrea.

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