This morning Orchard and Shipman, the private company subcontracted by the Home Office through Serco, orchestrated a violent and sudden eviction of a close friend and Collective Member of the Unity Centre. Barry (not his real name) had been living in his Home Office flat since October 2013. Barry was then told his support would stop last year (despite his ongoing claim) but he remained in his house, where he has been until today. He has complied with every monthly housing inspection, and has not been asked to leave at any point since then.
On 25th April this year Barry’s claim was refused and, within the time limit, he applied (successfully) for an appeal. This means that his case is still open and he has a full right to housing and support. But it takes time for Home Office bureaucracy to move, and before they had communicated this news to Orchard and Shipman (the housing provider), Orchard and Shipman ‘realised’ that Barry had overstayed in his accommodation. On Friday one of the Senior Management Team, David Inglis, (pictured below in sunglasses) took Barry’s keys out of his flat when he was not in, including the keys to a local community centre where he volunteers. Barry went to the offices of O&S at 4.45pm that afternoon, as soon as he was able, to ask why his keys were taken. He was told very aggressively that he could no longer stay there. The Home Office was then closed for the weekend.
At 8.30am this morning, a friend of Barry’s (another volunteer at the Unity Centre) went to his house, to stay there while he went to visit O&S. Another volunteer went with him to O&S. They were told that David Inglis was not in, and instead they were told to wait in the waiting room. Another O&S worker, Graham Watson, came in to the waiting room and began telling Barry he had to leave his house. When Barry repeatedly asked to be seen or spoken to in a confidential space, Mr. Watson refused. When Barry and the volunteer asked for this workers name, which at this time they did not know, he refused to give his name or job title or to speak any further. At the end of the conversation he said – “If you want to know my name, your colleague knows it, and she’s with David Inglis at the property.”
At this point Barry and the volunteer walked around the corner to the flat where they found David Inglis, another Orchard and Shipman employee, and two police officers questioning the volunteer. Three O&S workers, all men and including the two named above, had come to the property, around 9.45am and when the volunteer tried to not let them in, attempted to force entry. At one point her leg was stuck in the door and she was shouting “you’re hurting me, you’re hurting me” and the three men continued to try and break the door. She was one female, and they were three men being aggressive and threatening. At this point they threatened to call the police and she encouraged them to do so, knowing that this was an illegal eviction – without 28 days notice, whilst someone still had an entitlement to housing. To be clear, he was told to leave, if he could not get confirmation from the Home Office, on the Friday evening. The Home Office was closed all weekend and they appeared to evict him on Monday morning.
After a prolonged period of discussion, the police enforced and facilitated an illegal and violent eviction. One police officer stood inside watching the packing whilst David Inglis and his colleague sat outside in the sunshine chatting and laughing with the other police officer. At some point during this process, a locksmith arrived and began changing the locks. Despite previously denying that they change locks, in this video you can clearly see the locksmith answering that he works for Orchard and Shipman.
They sat on the wall outside the flat and watched us make a pile of Barry’s belongings. They had already seen the paperwork showing that Barry’s appeal was now open, but maintained that they needed him to talk to the Home Office and get them to confirm it. We repeatedly explained that Home Office bureaucracy takes time and even one or two days breathing space would give us time to get this all sorted out, but they were unwilling to listen.
Orchard and Shipman are a private company, paid £60million a year to house asylum-seekers in Scotland and routinely evicting people, changing their locks, and intimidating people out of their homes. A current legal challenge is being brought against them, and searching their name on the internet brings dozens of results up about slum housing, illegal evictions and shocking treatment of service users. They know that now that they have pushed Barry out of his house, even when he proves within a few days that he has an entitlement to the support, it could take him over a month to move through the Home Office bureaucracy and get confirmation to Orchard and Shipman, rendering him homeless and them with another flat to allocate. Their staff are not trained properly, and should not be making who-stays-and-who-doesn’t decisions about people who have already often endured so much violence and they certainly should not be facilitating lock-changes and evictions, a practise which they publicly deny.
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