Do people seeking asylum in the UK have the right to due process against evictions?
The recent story of Serco sending lock-change notices to people who have been refused asylum in Scotland is a perfect example of how people seeking asylum are not afforded the same rights as other tenants across the UK.
Asylum support and accommodation in the UK is structured by the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. This Act prohibited people seeking asylum from claiming mainstream benefits or social housing. Rather, those who could prove that they would otherwise be destitute would have to apply for financial and accommodation support under Section 95 of the 1999 Act. This was now support provided by the Home Office, not general social welfare benefits. Accommodation would be provided on a no-choice basis in dispersal towns and cities across the UK. And this has been the case for the last 19 years.
People seeking asylum who receive accommodation as part of their support package from the state are not afforded the same rights as tenants, because they do not seem to be considered tenants in legislation. When they move in, they sign ‘mutual agreements’ – these are not tenancy agreements and they do not trigger the same rights and responsibilities as the latter. The legislation only affords for accommodated asylum seekers to be given seven days notice before an eviction date.
What happens in Scotland will be of interest to us all. As Shelter take Serco to court, Housing Associations offer to ‘flip’ tenancies of refugees threatened with evictions, and solidarity groups promise to protect communities from eviction, the debate seems to have become more complex. Whilst the legislation might not be in favour of those threatened with eviction, the public mood definitely is.
However, this particular situation highlights once again the reality of accommodation provision for people in the asylum process: conditional, precarious, and fundamentally temporary.