Council considers legal action amid 'deeply concerning' homelessness rise

Glasgow City Council have warned Home Office plans to process asylum claims could lead to an 'unprecedented rise' in homeless people.

Glasgow City Council considers legal action against Home Office amid ‘deeply concerning’ homelessness rise iStock

Charities are “deeply concerned” about an expected rise in homelessness in Glasgow, as the council considers legal action against the Home Office over its asylum claims plan.

The UK Government intends to speed up the processing of asylum claims to deal with a backlog, but senior council officials have warned it could lead to almost 1,400 homeless applications this year.

No government funding has been provided to deal with the “unprecedented” rise – which it has been estimated could cost around £50m.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Refugee Council said: “We are deeply concerned by the amount of people seeking protection who could be at risk of homelessness this winter.

“We are seeing people being granted refugee status and then being given seven days, or sometimes less, to find accommodation. In the midst of a housing crisis and a cost of living crisis, it would be difficult for anyone to find new housing in a week.

“For someone who has just received their status, it is impossible.”

Positive Action in Housing, a homelessness and human rights charity, wants “immediate action to prevent the destitution of these vulnerable individuals”.

While it is “good news” that people “trapped in an oppressive asylum system” and “forbidden to work” would take a “major step” towards rebuilding their lives, the charity is “worried” because newly granted refugees “will have as little as seven days’ notice to leave their asylum accommodation”.

“Yet it takes 56 days just to access Universal Credit,” it added. “And we already have a homelessness crisis in Glasgow, with more people placed in hotels, guest houses and temporary accommodation.”

Accelerated claims are expected to apply to people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen, who are more likely to get a positive decision. 

Successful applicants will need help to find housing, but there is already a shortfall of around 1,600 properties in the city. Positive Action in Housing wants to see a ‘rent a room’ scheme to encourage people to take in individuals or families.

Council chief executive Annemarie O’Donnell said decisions that “in ordinary times would be unpalatable” might be needed to avoid an increase in rough sleeping.

The council’s property portfolio is being assessed in an effort to find solutions, and empty care homes will be considered.

Cllr Allan Casey, SNP, the homelessness convener, has said there are also “ongoing conversations” around “prefabricated type buildings” where the council could “move at pace” to create extra accommodation.

A council lawyer told an emergency meeting that legal action against the Home Office “remains a possibility”. He said if senior officials’ instructions were to “seek counsel’s opinion that’s what we’ll be doing and we would report back about the prospects of any potential action”.

He added: “In theory, there is a potential to take legal action against the Home Office but whether that’s a practical matter is really going to depend on the facts and circumstances.”

The council is also at risk of legal challenge as there are “strict duties under homeless legislation and unsuitable accommodation orders”. “There’s no desire not to fulfil our duties, it’s not for want of trying,” the lawyer said.

Council leader Susan Aitken said the council was “very likely” to be “pushed into a position where we breach our statutory duties by decisions and actions by someone else (the Home Office)”.

“It seems to me there is a very strong argument in there that ultimate legal responsibility for any failures that we incur lie with the Home Office,” she added.

Cllr Martha Wardrop, Glasgow Greens co-leader, said the city was looking at a “humanitarian crisis”. “I think the legal route is worth exploring, so we are exhausting every avenue to seek resources for the city.”

Cllr Aitken also said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has “been in contact with me directly offering support and assistance on this”.

The council leader said she spoke to the president of the United Nations agency, Filippo Grandi, at an event in Geneva last week.

She added he was “explicit” that when national governments have asylum policies “which are not aligned with cities, it is completely unacceptable for them to not fund cities to deal with the pressures that their policies are creating”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The pressure on the asylum system has continued to grow, which is why we have taken immediate action to speed up processing times and cut costs for taxpayers.

“To minimise the risk of homelessness, we encourage individuals to make their onward plans as soon as possible after receiving their decision, whether that is leaving the UK following a refusal, or taking steps to integrate in the UK following a grant.

“We offer ample support once claims have been granted through Migrant Help, access to the labour market and advice on applying for Universal Credit.”

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