Home Affairs Committee

UKBA COMPASS Asylum Housing Contracts in Yorkshire and the Humber and North East February to June 2013.

For enquiry strand:

‘Whether the system of support to asylum applicants (including section 4 support) is sufficient and effective and possible improvements’.

A supplementary report to the Home Affairs Committee on behalf of:

SYMAAG, and Notog4sYorkshire Plus.666

1.1 In our original evidence of 27 February 2013 we highlighted a range of problems with the G4S COMPASS contracts in Yorkshire and the North East in the Transition programme from June 2012.667 Many of these issues and problems have simply remained unchanged up to the present (17 June 2013), continuing what we consider to be the housing abuse of asylum seeker tenants and their families, rather than a project offering asylum accommodation support.

We set out below some of the cases and issues which have been reported by volunteers and asylum seeker tenants since the end of February in Yorkshire and the North East. We also point out some conclusions arising from these reports for the attention of the Committee in its deliberations on the COMPASS contracts.

2.1 The appalling neglect of vulnerable asylum seeker tenants through unsuitable allocations and degrading treatment by G4S/subcontractor housing workers.

On the 27 February in a Parliamentary Whitehall debate Chris Bryant the shadow minister for Immigration spoke of the ‘hideous’ conditions in asylum housing exposed in evidence to the Childrens Society Parliamentary Panel on asylum support for young people.

The hideous conditions in which many people live. We need to do far more in this country to crack down on unscrupulous and poor landlords, who put people into housing that, frankly, is not fit for living. It has been a disgrace that successive Governments have not concentrated enough on that.”

And yet evidence from our monitoring of the COMPASS contracts in Yorkshire and the North East since February suggests that G4S and its subcontractors are doing very little about these ‘hideous’ tenancy conditions.

2.2 Mother with new born twins, and a child at school, threatened with being sent to Scotland for ‘complaining’

Below are extracts from correspondence between a volunteer worker and Cascade Housing, the subcontractor for G4S in West Yorkshire regarding a heavily pregnant asylum seeker mother who was dispersed into an unsuitable property in January 2013 with her young son. The volunteer reported the poor conditions in the property and access problems at the beginning of March, Cascade said it would be treated as a priority; three and a half weeks later s/he had heard nothing, so on the 24 March, s/he contacted Cascade and G4S.

This lady was dispersed into your above property at a time when she was heavily pregnant although the access to the house was really not suitable. The steps from the street to the house are very steep and potentially dangerous. Her twins were born sometime in early February if I recall correctly, and she has a young son. Every morning she must take her son to school and also get a double buggy down the steps. Because of these difficulties, she stays out all day until she collects him from school at 15.00. This is a major struggle for her. When the twins were born she had major complications due to a difficult childbirth. Additionally, she has a problem with her hand for which she is receiving hospital treatment.

There have been many issues with the house which I am unable to list. She recently had a visit from the UKBA a couple of weeks ago who listed the problems in the house. Since that time some of the problems have since been rectified and some are in the process of being repaired.

When I spoke to her recently she was very upset. She had been visited by a Cascade Housing Inspector by the name of…... She mentioned the problem with the steps to him and asked him about being moved…

His response was that ‘if she complained, she may be moved to Glasgow in Scotland’, he also said ‘ it would be best to cope with the situation’. She responded by telling …….. that all her support was in ………and her little boy was in school close by.

Is this really a way to respond to a client who is already anxious, struggling with new born twins, health issues and access to and from her home??

Can you please investigate these comments with your housing officer? Surely your staff should be more sensitive to the needs of your clients?

As a result of the volunteer’s intervention on behalf of the mother the housing inspector was prevented from visiting the premises again, and also other properties in that part of West Yorkshire. G4S undertook to find another property ‘that will not affect her children’s school’.

2.3 Two weeks with a baby, no hot water, no washing machine, inadequate heating and below freezing temperatures

On the 21 March a SYMAAG volunteer received an e-mail from another support worker based in West Yorkshire who was despairing of the absence of G4S/Cascade housing staff dealing with crisis situations

We have had a client with a young baby living in a house with no hot water, very limited heating and no working washing machine. I kept ringing Cascade who kept saying they were going to deal with it. They said they were giving the landlord a chance to deal with it. I am hoping that it has finally been dealt with as the lady didn’t come in to our office today. This went on for at least 2 weeks while it was 0 degrees outside and minus 2 at night and the baby developed a cough-it is disgraceful,

2.4 In August 2012 the G4S subcontractor in Rotherham, Target Housing, evicted a pregnant asylum seeker on the day she was to be induced with no transport to the hospital.

On 3 May 2013 a SYMAAG volunteer reported a threatened eviction of a disabled woman tenant on to the streets, again in Rotherham; by Live Management Group (another G4S subcontractor in South Yorkshire).UKBA and G4S had wrongly assessed her eligibility for support.

Only a couple of days ago I got a call from a severely disabled African woman in Live Management accommodation in Rotherham. She’d been told that since she had no more appeal rights on her asylum claim (not the case) she would be evicted by today. NRC (Northern Refugee Centre) advice workers used their direct line to G4S and got the eviction delayed. No doubt the (unstated but implied) threat that this case would reach the national press influenced G4S.

Advice workers enabled the disabled woman to be accommodated by the local authority in Rotherham until her denial of support was appealed.

3.1 Women asylum seekers, privacy and reporting sexual and racial harassment

During the monitoring of the G4S Yorkshire and the North East COMPASS contracts by activists, asylum seeker tenants, and academics we uncovered widespread abuse of asylum seeker tenants’ privacy by G4S and their subcontractors. This has been particularly disturbing in the case of women asylum seekers who have made up the majority of the cases brought to our attention.

Almost every family told us that housing contractors routinely enter properties without knocking. We heard not just from one family, but from all of them independently that people just turn up and use keys to let themselves in. People may be in the shower and if they are Muslim women they may not have adequate head covering. It causes terror for children, and is an epithet for the lack of respect with which they are treated. They are treated as luggage rather than people who deserve some dignity and respect. The Government must get to grips with that with housing contractors.”

Sarah Teather M.P. speaking in Parliament on 27 February 2013 citing evidence from the Childrens Society inquiry into asylum support for children and young people

“As well as that being restricted and unsuitable living, it can lead to intrusive situations—officials can just arrive and appear in the properties where people are living. That can lead to situations that are totally inappropriate in the context of family life. Families should not have to deal with that.”

Mark Durkan M.P. on asylum housing in the same debate on 27 February

What is especially alarming is that the neglect and suffering go on, regardless of this kind of public and Parliamentary exposure. There has been little impact on the everyday practice of G4S and their subcontractors. Women like ‘Angela’ and ‘Ruth’ (not their real names) who had to endure appalling housing conditions in G4S/Cascade Leeds properties (see our earlier evidence pp 23-24) have continued to be harassed with unannounced visits and warnings to such an extent that ‘Ruth’ has now left her ‘support’ accommodation.

‘Angela’ was moved from a Cascade property with her baby son where she endured appalling conditions with infestations of slugs and cockroaches in December 2012. Even in her new property the harassment went on. Male housing workers arrived unannounced demanding to be let in. As recently as 26 April a Cascade worker simply let himself in without any prior arrangement when Angela was out.

Then on Wednesday 1 May Angela got a phone call from a G4S/Cascade male employee who said he was the Social Cohesion Manager of G4S: he told her that she must move immediately to an address in Pudsey miles away from her present neighbourhood. The caller said he would come to see her on Tuesday 7 May when he would bring ID and take Angela to the new address so that she could see the property. This was deeply distressing news for Angela. The new address was miles away from her church, support services and a childcare centre she had just arranged for her infant son. The ‘Social cohesion manager’ of G4S for asylum housing in Yorkshire and the North East should surely have been well aware of grave criticisms in Parliament of the threats to the privacy of asylum seekers in their homes.

There followed twelve days, during which time Angela had to suffer harassment and pressure from the landlord from who Cascade had rented the property. He wanted her to move because G4S/Cascade was £1600 in arrears on the rent. Finally G4S and Cascade found Angela a suitable property, and she moved on 16 May. This was her fourth move in a few months.

Almost unbelievably at this final property there was a dispute about poor quality curtains which resulted in Cascade resorting to unannounced visits, and a formal warning to Angela for allegedly damaging the curtains. Here are extracts from Angela’s response to this humiliating treatment

I am writing to appeal your ridiculous ‘warning for damages to the property’ issued on Cascade headed note paper on 28 May. I cannot recognise the series of events you suggest took place. In reply I want to make formal complaints about the behaviour of Cascade staff in invading my privacy on two occasions when they entered my home as trespassers with no prior warning and no permission from me……..I firmly believe that Cascade are now systematically bullying and victimising me because I have spoken out about my awful experiences in their properties……..I feel totally insecure and harassed. Cascades have to stop their bullying and act as responsible and supportive landlords to their vulnerable asylum seeker tenants.

The very next day G4S instructed Cascade to replace the curtains

Angela like many women asylum seekers has a traumatic personal history and she suffered many years of physical and mental abuse after being trafficked into the UK. In the midst of her recent stressful ‘no choice’ housing moves, she was granted right to remain with her 11 month old son.

3.2 Intrusions into properties can become harassment, even hate crimes, but where asylum seeker tenants complain of racial or sexual harassment to G4S contractor Cascade they face an inadequate response. Here is what Cascade’s ‘legally binding’ ‘mutual’ tenancy agreement states, an agreement asylum housing tenants are told they must sign:

Policy on reported racial and sexual harassment or bullying incidents

If you are the victim of harassment from any person be it sexual, racial bullying or in any another (sic) form you should make it clear to the harasser on an informal basis that their behaviour is unwelcome and ask the harasser to stop, where it is safe to do so.

If the harasser continues you should bring the matter to the immediate attention of the Housing Officer/Manager. Your complaint will be formally recorded, and the complaint controller will investigate the matter and endeavour to resolve the situation on your behalf. The matter will be dealt with in strict confidence on a need to know basis. Once the investigation is concluded the matter in which its (sic) resolved and the decision made will be recorded.

Cascade ‘Mutual’ Agreement page 4

Thus G4S and Cascade issue “mutual” tenancy agreements and seek to keep complaints of racial and sexual harassment restricted to housing officers or managers and investigated internally by G4S and Cascade. There is no mention of reporting criminal behaviour to the police. Cascade at the end of February had around 400 properties across West Yorkshire and no frontline women housing officers.

Thus in the midst of the current legal climate encouraging victims of sexual violence and harassment to come forward and for them to be taken seriously, G4S, its subcontractors and the UK Border Agency want to keep things in-house.

4.1 A flawed business plan and a failed delivery model

As we have argued, since early 2012, the attempt by the Home Office and G4S to take over asylum housing from its organisation by local authorities, certainly in Yorkshire, lacked a viable business plan. The attempt to cut expenditure nationally may mean that in the first year of the COMPASS contracts 50 per cent of the spending will have been cut with new asylum seekers having increased 8 per cent with a proportion of this increase finding their way into asylum housing.

Over the past three months a number of leaked documents from G4S and testimony from present or former housing staff employed by G4S subcontractors suggests that the ‘new delivery model’ is unraveling. This model envisaged G4S supervising and facilitating subcontractors who would provide their own properties but who would also rent from small private landlords. Where necessary, subcontractors would employ lettings agencies to find small landlords’ properties, to add to the contract portfolio. This means there is potentially a four tier system with profits top sliced at each level. One source in a G4S subcontractor suggests that the ‘per night’ payments to G4S subcontractors are fixed at £8 for all asylum seeker tenants regardless of age or special needs. This financial pyramid has started to collapse.

A G4S letter from Stephen Small the executive in charge of the COMPASS contract, dated 25 February, leaked in March, painted a picture of subcontractors simply unable to live with the costings of the contract. The letter revealed that Mantel the G4S subcontractor in the West Midlands had resigned from the contracts on 30 January. Other subcontractors were “finding it difficult to manage aspects of this contract.” In particular repairs and housing management were specified as these ‘aspects’, fairly fundamental parts of the contract one might think. The crisis has pushed G4S to setup a Project Board to restructure the delivery and provide a ‘more effective service’. Small said G4S was supporting Live Management Group and Cascade “to help them focus on their critical business activities”,

4.2 Cascade according to credit rating agency www.192.com fell from 49 (credit worthy) in September 2012 to 5 (caution – credit at your discretion, one category above liquidation) on 1 May 2013. The evidence in West Yorkshire is that Cascade is not paying its bills and its asylum seeker tenants are being put at risk of harm. ‘Angela’ found a rent arrears letter in her property demanding £1,600 from Cascade.

Local volunteers, in another part of West Yorkshire where Cascade had refused to spend money on adequate repairs and cleaning (see our earlier evidence of 27 February pp 32-34) of a block of twenty flats, reported on 10 June that Cascade had lost the contract for the flats. Neglect and chaos still prevailed with asylum seeker women and children being given 48 hours notice to move from flat to flat.

I rang the Council and was told that the property company now in charge after the dropping of Cascade is called Rexel, and that the asylum properties have been registered as “empty” since September 2012. 

Re maintenance, nothing has changed, neglect prevails, and the system for requesting repairs is not fit for purpose. Although workmen sometimes do turn up, there seems to be little systematic monitoring for maintenance needs.

No more asylum seekers are being dispersed to ……..and the flats are being let to the general public by X, some flats have been let. There seemed to be little awareness by X of the presence and circumstances of asylum seekers, when I happened to call in their office, on seeing in their shop window an occupied asylum flat advertised to let. However, in the course of conversation, the letting agent said that landlords (of the flats) were withdrawing the flats from Cascade (at that time) because rents had not been paid.

(Locations and Letting agents name appeared in original but have been anonymised)

Clearly Cascade could not meet the costs of rents on good quality property, together with repairs and maintenance, and housing management, from the reduced budgets. The consortium of local authorities who bid for the COMPASS contracts in 2011 in Yorkshire offered to spend £12 to £13 per night on accommodation AND housing services and management, one third more than the £8 G4S apparently allows to subcontractors.

5.1 G4S now trying to deliver housing management direct

On the 24 May it was announced that there would be a COMPASS ‘service reorganization’ between G4S and the Live Management Group in the Midlands and East of England.

‘Following a review G4S have reorganised their service and Live Management Group will become property agents and G4S will take responsibility for all service user support with effect from 31 May 2013 .Existing staff will TUPE to G4S and all service users will continue to stay in their current accommodation’

Source: East of England Local Government Association, Strategic Partnership Newsflash 13-24 May

Sources from within Live Management Group in Yorkshire suggest that a similar reorganisation is underway in South Yorkshire with staff reluctant to transfer to G4S, fearing job cuts to an already small management and tenant support team.

G4S with no experience of delivering housing management is set to take over these elements and cut costs and staffing. From our experience working alongside asylum seeker tenants, it is apparent that they fear G4S and are reluctant to approach their staff directly, preferring the subcontractors’ housing workers. The reorganisation will produce even more chaos and will deter vulnerable asylum seekers from seeking support or making complaints.

6.1 Duty of Care and the business ethics of for profit security companies

There was never a business case for G4S to be awarded oversight of the COMPASS asylum housing contracts. Asylum housing is publicly funded social housing for vulnerable tenants, representing the state’s duty of care for asylum seekers under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Therefore there certainly never was an ethical case for awarding the COMPASS contracts to a for profit international security company with, to say the least a controversial record on human rights, particularly in the immigration and asylum sector. This ethical issue is perhaps highlighted by the fact that Stephen Small in charge of the COMPASS contracts for G4S may well appear before the Home Affairs Committee to answer questions in the current Enquiry on Asylum. The last occasion Mr Small appeared before the committee was on 21 November 2010 as G4S Managing Director of Detention and Escorting, when he was asked questions by the Committee about restraint techniques used by G4S staff present at the death, twenty days earlier, of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan man, whilst being deported.

6.2 G4S should be replaced by Local Authorities providing coordination and oversight for the COMPASS contracts

Interviews with past and present personnel in private housing companies subcontracting from G4S on the COMPASS contracts suggest that they feel that the system, and the service to asylum seeker tenants, worked much more effectively, and humanely, when local authorities coordinated provision through private companies and housing associations alongside their own property portfolio. The G4S oversight certainly of the Yorkshire and North East COMPASS contracts has been a disaster for asylum seeker tenants, and for taxpayers who have financed this miserable experience for asylum seekers and their families.

The majority of experienced local authority personnel in Yorkshire ‘asylum teams’ refused to transfer over to G4S on ethical grounds, and have been lost to asylum housing. It is time surely to transfer oversight back to local authorities who had over fifty years experience of providing and managing social housing for asylum seekers and refugees. Local authorities in Yorkshire and the North East will be able to coordinate other COMPASS providers more effectively and ensure a real duty of care is demonstrated once again in the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers.

Evidence and report from John Grayson

Independent Researcher, SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group)

June 2013

666 NotoG4SyorkshirePlus is a monitoring network comprising organisations like SYMAAG, Notog4sHuddersfield, KFTRA (Kirklees Federation of Tenants and Residents Associations),NotoG4SNottingham

Academics: Steve Herschler, Simon Parker, and Prof Caroline Hunter(University of York) Ala Sirriyeh (University of Bradford), Kate Smith (University of Huddersfield),Hannah Lewis and Stuart Hodkinson (University of Leeds) Dexter Whitfield (European Services Strategy Unit)

Prepared 11th October 2013