LAWYERS are fighting back against “a tidal wave” of eviction notices from Serco in Glasgow, winning court orders that allow asylum seekers to stay in their homes until an appeal questioning the legality of evicting people by changing their locks can be heard.

About 300 refused asylum seekers are currently threatened with homelessness. The first eviction notices were served three weeks ago, followed by seven-day notices warning their locks would be changed. The first wave of the lock-change notices expired at midnight last Friday.

Home Office contractor Serco, which will pass over the contract to Mearns Group in September, is carrying out the evictions because it is not funded to provide accommodation to those who have been refused asylum and maintains it is acting lawfully.

However, lawyers from Govan Law Centre (GLC), Shelter Scotland, Legal Services Agency and Latta & Co remain convinced that Serco is acting illegally by evicting people through lock changes, rather following procedure under Scottish housing law.

Govan Law Centre is appealing a Court of Session case won by Serco in May, with a court date now set for next month.

In response, the public legal firms have applied for interim interdicts for those facing lock changes, winning 20 out of 22 cases – which halt evictions temporarily. Additional cases are being taken daily, with five to 10 more expected to go to court next week.

Serco, which has issued up to 60 lock change notices, confirmed evictions would go ahead where interim interdicts have not been secured.

READ MORE: Calls for Serco to halt Glasgow asylum seekers lock change

Fiona McPhail, principal solicitor at Shelter Scotland, said: “Since the roll out of Serco’s lock-change programme, a collaboration of Glasgow lawyers including GLC, Latta & Co, LSA and Shelter Scotland have faced a tidal wave of distressed clients at risk of imminent homelessness.

“Housing lawyers have been working round the clock and have so far been successful in obtaining orders preventing lock-changes in 20 cases. In the absence of an undertaking from Serco that they will not change the locks whilst the law is being clarified, we have no option but to take urgent legal action to protect our clients.

“We are convinced that lock-change evictions due to be carried out by Serco are illegal and should not be going ahead.”

Anna Pearce, project worker at Asylum Seeker Housing (ASH) said that many of those she was supporting now had interim interdicts, giving them some breathing space. However, she claimed they were still extremely stressed and anxious, many having been living with the threat of street homelessness for months.

She said there was an urgent need for cases to be properly assessed by the Home Office as many facing eviction had submitted further submissions, which must be assessed in Liverpool, but either had not yet been given an appointment or faced waits of up to four months. Out of 53 cases she was currently working on, five people had applied for an appointment to lodge further submissions on their asylum case, but were still at risk of eviction. Another seven have a date that is at least two months away and falls after Serco is due to pass over its contract. Pearce is also aware of two cases of asylum seekers sent appointments for further submissions though they had not requested them.

“I get the impression that the Home Office is in chaos,” she said. “It’s a complete mess. The longer people wait, the longer they are destitute for – and the more suffering this causes.”

People often went on to win cases even after having been refused and destitute for months or even years, she added. “Out of a total of 140 supported since November 2017, ASH now have 58 people that were at threat of eviction but have gone back onto support.

“Had Serco changed any of their locks, they would have been changing the locks on someone that had a valid fresh asylum claim, which should not be happening. And yet that is exactly what’s going on now too.”

Meanwhile, Sean Baillie, co-ordinator of Living Rent, said the tenant’s union – which is supporting the city-wide No Evictions campaign – was now calling for “a complete boycott and lock out of Serco and Mears in all their publicly funded contracts in Scotland” with ongoing public actions to oppose the evictions planned.

He claimed the campaign had grown substantially in recent weeks with friends, neighbours and Scots who had faced eviction coming out to protest evictions in solidarity with asylum seekers.

“We have seen church ministers of different denominations out chapping doors with people directly affected, their neighbours, have also come out pledging their support and signing up to future actions,” he said.

Serco has maintained that it “regrets the distress evictions will cause” but claims it cannot be expected to provide free housing to people who have been unsuccessful in their asylum claims indefinitely.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Office has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it, and takes the wellbeing of asylum seekers and the local communities in which they live extremely seriously.

“People who are overstaying in Serco property continue to have the opportunity to either submit further submissions if they have new evidence to support a fresh asylum claim, or work with Immigration Enforcement to facilitate a voluntary return to their country of origin.

“We have and will continue to work closely with local authorities and partners to ensure that those who have no right to be in the UK leave their accommodation in a safe and secure way.

“We are putting in place arrangements to prevent anyone being evicted if they have requested to lodge a further submission.

“All applicants who request a further submissions appointment will be granted it.”