“Serco given new asylum housing contracts despite £6.8m fines”

“The outsourcing firm Serco was awarded new contracts to house vulnerable asylum seekers despite having been fined nearly £7m for previous failings, the Guardian can reveal.

Responsibility for housing people seeking asylum in the UK was taken away from local authorities in 2012 and given to the companies Serco, G4S and Clearsprings under deals with the Home Office known as Compass contracts.

Despite concerns by leading charities that outsourcing the service had resulted in “squalid, unsafe, slum housing conditions”, in January the Home Office awarded Serco, Clearsprings and the company Mears new contracts to provide housing for asylum seekers for 10 years from September.

Figures released following freedom of information requests and a parliamentary question show that £6.8m worth of “service credits” were imposed on Serco between April 2013 and December 2018. The figures do not include the month of March 2016.

Service credits are sums deducted from a company’s monthly invoice when it fails to meet key performance indicators included in its contract, such as property standards or how quickly issues are resolved.

Serco was fined a total of £2.8m for its contracts to provide asylum seeker housing in Scotland and Northern Ireland over that period, and just over £4m for its contract in north-west England.

Serco’s penalties were at their highest in 2013/14 (£3.9m) and 2016/17 (£1.16m). Between April to December 2018, after the new contracts were put out to tender, it was fined £850,000. In January the firm was awarded two contracts to provide asylum seeker housing: – one in the north-west and one in the Midlands and the east of England, from September.

The figures also show G4S was fined just over £2m for breaches of contract – £1.5m for its contract in the Midlands and east of England and £500,000 for its contract in the north-east and Yorkshire and the Humber, both of which end in August. Most of these fines (£1.7m) were incurred in 2013/14.

Clearsprings, which manages asylum accommodation in Wales and south-west England and London and the south-eaast, was not fined, despite also being criticised over standards of accommodation.

The Home Office initially refused to release data on the fines it had imposed, claiming the information was commercially sensitive, but it was forced to do so following a ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office. …”