1 UK Border Agency
and Glasgow City Council|
1. On 5 November 2010 the UK Border Agency (UKBA)
officially confirmed the termination of its contract with Glasgow
City Council (GCC) for the housing of asylum seekers in GCC accommodation.
On the same day, a letter was sent out by UKBA Head Office (based
in London) to those asylum seekers in GCC accommodation, saying
that they would given 3-5 days notice of when they would have
to move, and that they would be allowed to take with them two
pieces of luggage. Neither
Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Refugee Council or the UKBA's
own office in Glasgow, received advance notification that such
a letter was being sent.
2. We decided to examine the circumstances in which
the letter was sent, and the implications for those asylum seekers
currently housed by Glasgow City Council. We held informal meetings
with Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Refugee Council and the
UK Border Agency in Glasgow, on 29 November. On 19 January we
took oral evidence from Mr Damian Green MP, Minister of State
for Immigration, Home Office, Mr Matthew Coats, Head of Immigration,
UK Border Agency and Mr Phil Taylor, Regional Director for the
Scotland and Northern Ireland Region (Immigration Group).We are
grateful to all those who facilitated our inquiries, including
the NAO, who prepared a memorandum for us.
The work of the UK Border Agency
3. The UK Border Agency is an executive agency of
the Home Office. UKBA came into existence on 1 April 2009, and
carries out the work previously co-ordinated by the Border and
Immigration Agency, UK Visa Services and customs detection work
at the border by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). UKBA
provides accommodation to those who have applied for asylum and
are having their claims processed. The agency reports jointly
to the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
4. The UK Border Agency provides accommodation under
the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 for those asylum seekers who
are destitute (or likely to become destitute). The Agency seeks
to provide somewhere to sleep for each new applicant and their
dependants on their first night and, if the asylum seeker can
demonstrate they are destitute, will arrange accommodation and
weekly cash payments to cover basic day to day expenses whilst
their application for asylum is considered. An asylum seeker is
not allowed to obtain employment whilst their application is considered.
The costs of accommodation, including heating, lighting and council
tax, are paid directly by the service to the accommodation provider.
5. If asylum seekers meet the requirements to receive
support, they are given suitable housing and money for essentials
if required. Asylum seekers cannot choose where they live and
are sent to wherever suitable housing is available within the
United Kingdom. As at
September 2010, 10% of all asylum seekers in the UK were living
Housing provision for asylum seekers
6. At present, all asylum seekers currently housed
in Scotland are located in Glasgow. UKBA has contracts with three
accommodation providers in Glasgow; Glasgow City Council (GCC),
Angel Group and the Y People (formerly known as YMCA). The UK
Border Agency has contracted with Glasgow City Council (GCC) to
provide accommodation for asylum seekers since 2000.
The current contract with GCC had been in place since 2006. We
note that Glasgow City Council has the highest charge of any accommodation
service outside London. Glasgow City Council currently houses
54% of the total number of asylum seekers in the city. As at 5
November, Glasgow City Council was providing a service to 1282
Glasgow City Council
7. The contract between the UK Border Agency and
Glasgow City Council contained a clause that should the number
of asylum seekers housed fall below a pre-agreed level, negotiations
would take place. The number of asylum seekers housed by GCC has
fallen from 4300 in August 2006 to below the agreed 3198 minimum
in February 2008 (triggering a contract review), and fell further,
to below 2000, in 2010.
In May 2010, GCC asked to open negotiations with UKBA. However,
the terms of a new contract could not be agreed, and on 5 November
UKBA gave notice of their intention to terminate the contract
after the required 90-day period (which would be 2 February 2011),
after which Glasgow City Council will no longer house those asylum
seekers currently in their accommodation.
LETTER TO RESIDENTS
8. At the heart of our concerns was a letter sent
out by UKBA Head Office (based in London) on 5 November to those
asylum seekers in GCC accommodation. The letter stated:
Your current accommodation provider Glasgow City
Council will no longer be providing you with support on behalf
of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) [...] We must inform you that as
a result of the change of your accommodation provider you may
be required to move to alternative accommodation in the Scotland
region [...] Whenever possible you will be given 3-5 days notice
of the move to give you time to get ready [...] You will be allowed
to take two pieces of luggage per person to your new accommodation.
9. On Monday 15 November, the BBC reported that up
to 200 campaigners took part in protests in Glasgow against the
plans to move hundreds of asylum seekers from Glasgow City Council
10. The Chair of the Committee wrote to Damian Green
MP, the Minister responsible, about the tone of the letter sent
by the UKBA. In his response, dated 24 November, the Minister
The letter issued to the asylum seekers currently
accommodated by Glasgow City Council was intended to allay any
fears they may have and to keep them informed of the decision
taken to terminate the contract. We have successfully used similar
letters in the past when a contract had come to an end to keep
asylum seekers informed. In hindsight the letter could have made
clear that individuals/families may not be required to move accommodation
if novation were possible.
11. The UKBA in Glasgow also conceded that the letter
could have been more sensitively written. Damian Green agreed
that "it was not a good letter to send out" and explained
that "it happened because somebody used a standard template
in a way which in the circumstances was inappropriate [...] it
may well have caused some distress, for which obviously the UKBA
apologises [...] I have taken steps to ensure that letters like
that will not go out again".
12. In a reply to a question for written answer on
15 November from Ann McKechin MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland
My officials have been kept informed of the negotiations
between UK Border Agency (UKBA) and Glasgow City Council which
led to the recent termination of the contract to provide accommodation
services. The UK Border Agency informed officials in the Scottish
Government and the Scottish Refugee Council of the likelihood
of termination and of the final decision to terminate the contract
prior to the formal termination letter being issued to Glasgow
City Council on 5 November 2010. I understand that the UKBA is
working with support organisations in Glasgow to ensure individuals
and families will be transferred to their new accommodation with
13. However, while there were ongoing negotiations
in relation to the termination of the contract between the UK
Border Agency and Glasgow City Council, the City Council noted
that it had not received any "information from UKBA on their
intention to write to our clients and did not receive any notice
that they had communicated with our clients".
On 19 January, Mr Green confirmed that the City Council had not
seen the letter.
Phil Taylor, Regional Director for the Scotland and Northern Ireland
Region (Immigration Group), further confirmed that "the Scottish
Refugee Council did not see the letter and weren't aware of it
coming", even though its recipients were directed to the
Scottish Refugee Council for further information and advice.
Most strikingly, Mr Taylor also confirmed that the UKBA staff
in Glasgow had not seen the letter. He said that the letter had
been "sent out by the central contract team who manage the
contracts across the whole of the UK".
While Mr Taylor confirmed that both Glasgow City Council and the
Scottish Government were "aware of the termination [of the
contract] before it happened," he added "no one was
aware of the letter".
14. Damian Green acknowledged that "the system
had bypassed our own office there [...] it is a legitimate criticism
that it shouldn't have happened".
The Minister offered us reassurances that measures have already
been put in place to ensure that such a situation could not arise
in the future. He said:
I made clear to the Border Agency that people who
send letters out to families or individuals who may be vulnerable
should consider to whom they are sending them and think about
the reception it will have, and anything that goes out needs to
pass through senior management or me, if necessary, to make sure
this kind of thing does not happen again.
It is partly a systems change to make sure the right
people are involved at the right time, but it is also, if you
like, a message that everyone wants from public sector organisations
that they should be conscious of the individuals with whom they
are dealing. It is not just a systemic change; it is a cultural
shift as well.
15. Glasgow City Council will no longer house the
asylum seekers currently in its accommodation, after the 2 February
2011. The Minister for Immigration wrote to our Chair in the
Contingency plans are in place and the current near
1300 asylum seekers being accommodated by Glasgow City Council
will be moved to at least one of the remaining two providers operating
in Glasgow. This does not necessarily mean that the asylum seekers
will need to move and indeed initial contact with Glasgow City
Council suggests they will consider the option of novating the
current sub-contracts they have with the Glasgow Housing Association
to Glasgow YMCA and therefore allowing the vast majority of service
users to remain in their current accommodation.
16. However, despite the Minister's statement that
"contingency plans are in place", concerns were raised
with us that the UK Border Agency had not met formally with the
Y People (put forward as the provider most able to take on the
asylum seekers housed by GCC) to discuss the relevant contract
issuessuch as staffing, subcontracts and TUPE (Transfer
of Undertakings [Protection of Employment] Regulations), which
would have to be in place for the Y People to provide accommodation
to the asylum seekers formerly housed by GCC. When pressed, the
Minister said that 'in place' meant that "we are working;
we know what's happening",
and that, in this sense, contingency plans were "in place"
at the "key point" defined by the Minister as
the date on 5 November 2010, when the letter of termination of
contract was issued to GCC and its residents.
17. However, as of 29 November, it appeared that
there had been no formal discussion between the UK Border Agency
and the Y People. Phil Taylor told us that he could not "be
certain when discussions started with Y People".
He explained that it was "difficult to know" whether
Y People were contacted before the individuals to be re-housed
had received the letters, because "some of them [ the letters]
arrived on the Saturday, and some did not arrive until Monday
and Tuesday [...]
He concluded:"I can't be certain when the discussion started
with Y People".
At the time of writing, the Minister had not confirmed when the
negotiations began with Y People.
18. We regard the letter which was sent out by the
UK Border Agency in London to asylum seekers dispersed to Glasgow
City Council accommodation to have been inappropriate at best
and callous and inhumane at worst. It undoubtedly caused panic
and distress to a large number of vulnerable people. We note that
even the UK Border Agency office in Scotland was unaware of the
dispatch of this letter and thus no one in Glasgow was able to
prepare asylum seekers for its receipt.
19. We believe the Minister responded well to the
situation he had been put in. He met relevant MPs speedily and
changed policy on matters contained within the letter. In particular,
he extended the notice of removal period from 3-5 days to 14,
and scrapped the two bag rule.
20. We regret that no firm contingency plans appear
to have been in place at the time the contract with Glasgow City
Council was terminated. We note that the existing contract has
been extended and the negotiations are still ongoing (though hopes
have been expressed that matters will be resolved by early April
with minimal physical transfers).We are unclear as to whether
substantial savings will be achieved or whether costs will simply
be transferred to another part of the public sector.
21. We were unable to clarify the complete financial
situation around the asylum seekers accommodation contract. We
are unclear why Glasgow's charges are so high and are concerned
that Glasgow City Council is presently making a loss, resulting
in costs falling upon council tax payers. We are unclear as to
whether the appropriate amounts of financial support are being
provided to Glasgow by the Scottish Government.
22. We intend to further consider various matters
relating to the work of the UK Border Agency in Scotland. In particular,
we note that the Family Return project has cost over £300,000
to date and has resulted in no families returning voluntarily.
We look forward to discussing the official
evaluation report. We have also requested a variety of figures
and information from the UK Border Agency about its work in Scotland
and intend to have further hearings on these subjects.
1 Letter from UK Border Agency, 5 November 2010 Back
UKBA Annual Report & Accounts 2009-10, www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk Back
Ev 19 Back
Home Office/UKBA Quarterly Supported Asylum seekers by constituency
The current contract commenced in July 2006 and was due to expire
in June 2011. Back
Glasgow City Council Executive Committee, report by David Crawford,
11 November 2010 Back
This decline in the numbers of asylum seekers is in accordance
with a decline of the number of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.
The Home Office Control of Immigration: Quarterly Statistical
Summary July-September 2010 states that the number of applications
for asylum, excluding dependents, was 13 % lower in Q3 2010 (a
total of 4,440) compared with Q3 2009 (a total of 5,110).
Letter from UK Border Agency, 5 November 2010 Back
'Protest over plan to re-home hundreds of asylum seekers', BBC
News, 15 November 2010 Back
Ev 18 Back
Q 2 Back
HC Deb, 15 November 2010, col 529W Back
Glasgow City Council Executive Committee, report by David Crawford,
11 November 2010 Back
Q 4 Back
Q 5 Back
Q 3 Back
Qq 13 and 14 Back
Q 6 Back
Q 67 Back
Ev 18 Back
Q 21 Back
Q 34 Back
Q 36 Back