Local authorities have been forced to help out G4S after the security giant failed to deliver on time on another public sector contract. The intervention comes just months after the Olympics security fiasco required thousands of troops to step in at the last minute.
Hundreds of asylum seekers in Yorkshire were left in council housing after G4S failed to meet a deadline to re-house them in private sector accommodation.
G4S was one of three firms awarded six contracts worth a total of £620m over seven years by UKBA for housing asylum seekers - undercutting several experienced public and voluntary sector consortia.
Complaints have been filed after families say they were being moved to unsuitable or dirty properties at short notice, and the firm Public Interest Lawyers has successfully intervened to prevent some relocations. Leeds Council is investigating the condition of some properties G4S where rehoused asylum seekers.
The chief officer for statutory housing at Leeds Council, Liz Cook, said: “We did not have the confidence to enter into a commercial relationship with G4S after they failed to deliver what had been jointly agreed, but [we] are a socially responsible public sector organisation and therefore would not evict vulnerable asylum seekers families - and G4S know it.”
In the bidding for asylum seeker contracts, Leeds was part of a consortium that bid £12 to £13 per person per night – losing out to a G4S bid that was reported as between £6 and £12.
Ms Cook added: “I do not see how G4S can provide adequate accommodation at that cost. It is now down to UKBA to monitor quality, costs, and impact on community cohesion and public service… but we are concerned about the quality of some properties which we are investigating.”
A Kirklees council spokesman said: “It is very disappointing that G4S failed to deliver on their contractual obligations despite strenuous and repeated efforts from the council.”
The Home Office confirmed that people in Yorkshire and the North-west were still to be re-housed, in breach of the contract, but declined to provide figures. It said it expected all the providers to fulfil their contract obligations and keep disruptions to a minimum, and that children who had moved school had done so with their parents’ consent.
The Independent can reveal that individuals and families have been moved to squalid, unsuitable places with little or no warning over the past few weeks as G4S desperately tried to make the 12 November contractual deadline. Some of these have successfully intervened in a significant number of cases to prevent “unlawful re-locations” that would have impacted unjustly of families and children.
There are reports of people being moved miles away from medical, psychological and legal support to towns like Sunderland in the north-East where there are greater supplies of low quality, low cost housing.
Several refugee organisations and campaign groups have been documenting cases of squalid conditions, racism and unreasonable disruption to families and children since G4S took over in the region. The Independent has been told about dozens of cases where children have been forced to move schools during term time despite government promises to avoid such disruption, something G4S deny.
The South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group is to ask the National Audit Office to examine UKBA’s “fundamentally flawed” handling of the contract procurement on the grounds that what was promised by G4S is not achievable.
Chris Bryant, shadow immigration minister, said: “These reports once again raise serious concerns about the government’s ability to manage UKBA. We welcome any attempts to save money, but it’ a complete failure if deadlines are missed, if the housing is not fit for purpose and if local authorities are left to pick up the pieces. The Home Secretary clearly has some serious questions to answer and should investigate this shambles as a matter of urgency.”
John Grayson, an independent researcher and retired university lecturer documenting cases, said: “G4S has had to use hundreds of properties unfit for people to lodge because there business plan was not viable, it is an absolute scandal, and another failed contract. The chief inspector of immigration and asylum and the home affairs select committee must investigate.”
G4S was awarded two regionals contracts for Yorkshire, Humber and the north-East and Midlands and the east of England by the UK Border Agency. G4S, along with Serco and Reliance, took over responsibility for the housing and transport of more than 22,000 asylum seeker from May, according to the Home Office, with 6,500 expected to move.
G4S, which has no prior experience in social housing, has sub contracted the house searches to four companies in Yorkshire and the north-East. They have looked to other agencies or private landlords, but have struggled to find enough cheap properties.
According to G4S’s own figures, almost 500 people were still waiting to be re-housed by last Monday’s deadline. The latest council figures given to The Independent show G4S had moved a considerable number since the deadline but 43 per cent or 288 asylum seekers, including dozens of children, in Kirklees, Leeds and Barnsley were still waiting.
The three councils have resisted pressure from UKBA to enter into temporary contracts with G4S, but agreed to house people for another four weeks. They categorically deny G4S claims that the breach is a result of councils asking for “more time”.
Jim Steinke from the Northern Refugee Centre said: “This is not just about poor quality housing - it’s about a systematic failure to consider the impact of last minute decisions on vulnerable families and children. Across the region I am aware of around 60 children who had to move schools during term time. The whole process has been flawed but the incompetence and ‘it will be alright on the night’ attitude by G4S has led to unnecessary problems.”
G4S told The Independent that it re-housed 275 people last week and there are now only 78 households left.
A spokesman added: “We have always been focused on minimising as far possible any disruption… any suggestion that G4S has rehoused people in poorer quality housing is simply not true. We have strict standards in our contract with UKBA and many people will see an improvement in their accommodation in the coming weeks as we review the historic stock of housing, to ensure that it meets decent standards.”
Sarah, 31, a Tamil from Sri Lanka who sought asylum in 2008, has been in Sheffield with her daughter, aged 5, for three years. The two were moved from Huddersfield after serious domestic violence.
They lived in a tiny council flat, up on the fourth floor where Sarah felt safe, until 1 September when they were moved by G4S to a basement flat, away from the little girl’s school and Sarah’s GP and counsellor for depression. There was mould and a leak from upstairs into the girl’s bedroom. Sarah found rat poison in cupboards, which the landlord advised not to remove since it acted as a deterrent.
“We were very settled before, my daughter had made friends,” said Sarah. “I was volunteering with the Refugee Council, and I was seeing my GP and a counsellor. The letter from G4S said we had to move but no address, it felt like they were blindfolding my eyes and leaving me somewhere.
“My daughters friends only came once. [Eventually] I was moved to this new place.
“My daughter has had to move schools and she misses her friends, but at least we feel safe here.”
Ruth, 31, left Kenya in 2006 to escape forced female genital mutilation – compulsory in her tribal sect.
She has been in West Yorkshire for four years, the past two years in Huddersfield, where she volunteered with the Red Cross, was active in her church and had a network of friends.
Two weeks ago she and another asylum seeker were collected in a van to be taken to a new address in Bradford, as part of the G4S re-housing scheme. She says they were told en route that the plan had changed and they were going to Leeds, to shared accommodation as they could no longer expect separate flats. The place was dirty and had visible damp on the walls. Ruth refused to sign the tenancy agreement.
“I could not wash for five days until they replaced the bath,” she said. “On one day last week there was no electricity all day. It is an electricity card meter so if it runs out at night or the weekend, we have to live in darkness and without a cooker because we cannot top it up. It’s only because I complained that they have put some new things, but most people are too scared to complain or can’t speak English. The council treated us like people, these companies just want to make profits. But we are human beings.”