We have a long history of working with people in the asylum process to ensure that they can live in safe, habitable accommodation. We believe that holding accommodation providers to account is integral to achieving our purpose: 'To achieve social justice in Govan and Craigton by building a strong community based on equality, mutual respect, support, and integration.'
Below is our submission to the aforementioned inquiry. If you have any comments or questions relating to our submission, or have someone who could use our help, please get in touch with our project manager: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please find below a summary of our experience of working for more than three years with people who are in the asylum process and who are being housed by Orchard and Shipman as part of the COMPASS contract.
We have found that service users have had many difficulties with Orchard and Shipman and experienced many problems with their properties, ranging from problems with the physical standards to treatment by Orchard and Shipman staff. Many of the service users living in Orchard and Shipman accommodation are extremely vulnerable and the problems they experienced with properties and staff treatment had serious negative impacts on their wellbeing. In addition, our staff team has also found that working with Orchard and Shipman has been extremely difficult. We have often found that the only way to resolve housing issues is either to escalate the complaint to the Home Office or to speak to the press. This is clearly, in our view, completely unacceptable - it disempowers the service users from enacting the complaint process themselves and also requires huge amounts of staff capacity from local charities which are often already overstretched.
This submission has been divided into these two main problem areas, however, the problems often overlapped or were more complex than simply falling into one of the two categories. An example has been provided for each problem, in some cases more than one service user experienced the same problem. In many of these cases the complaint resolution letters from Orchard and Shipman were unsatisfactory as they only partially, or did not at all, address the issues raised in the original complaint. These unsatisfactory responses were damaging to the wellbeing of the service users as they felt that their problems were not being taken seriously and were then faced with the prospect of having to re-submit complaints and undergo lengthy waiting periods, sometimes whilst being housed in completely inappropriate accommodation in the interim.
Service users experienced problems with:
● Accommodation not fit for purpose.
○ CASE A : a single mother with a newborn child and a 2 year old child who, due to recent surgery, was rendered effectively housebound as she was unable to safely carry her children downstairs to leave the building. Her only options for leaving the flat involved leaving her two year old son on his own in the stairwell whilst she picked up her baby and the double pram and brought them to join him at the bottom of the stairs.This meant that she was only able to leave her property once or twice a week when there was someone available to assist her with carrying her two children and the double pram down two flights of stairs. This situation further exacerbated her mental health issues as she was increasingly socially isolated, was at risk of postnatal depression and suffered from panic attacks. This inadequate housing also had a severe, negative impact on her children’s development as their mother was increasingly unwell and they were unable to leave the property to play outdoors. Case B was placed on a relocation list and had to wait for 8 months. During this extremely lengthy waiting period, she was offered a completely inappropriate property which was on the third floor. Of course, she was obliged to refuse this as it would have worsened her (and her children's) condition further.
● Overcrowding or accommodation provision too small for family size.
○ CASE B : a couple with a young child and expecting their second child had to reside in a one bedroom property. This created undue stress for the expectant parents as they had to cope with the prospect of 4 people sharing one room.
● Problems in the property including broken washing machines, lack of heating, broken boilers, broken toilets, widespread dampness, uncovered pipes, broken showers, faulty cookers etc.
○ CASE C experienced problems with a broken boiler and broken toilet in the same month. When the complaint was submitted by CASE C an inappropriate reply was given: despite it being November and winter weather, she was told to wait until the next day and no emergency heaters were sent out. It was not until a staff member from our organisation submitted a complaint on her behalf that emergency heaters were sent out the same evening. Regarding the broken toilet, Orchard and Shipman responded in their complaint resolution letter that “there was no issue with the toilet. The issue was that your client didn't know how to use it properly so our maintenance showed her how to use it.” Please note, the service user had been living in that property for over four years and they were obliged to then refute this claim from Orchard and Shipman .This is, in our view, an outrageous response; not only is it patronising to suggest that the service user does not know how to use a toilet, but it also leads us to believe that this was used as an excuse to cover up a repair which had not been properly done.
● Problems with the relocation process including flat being filthy upon arrival, an apparent lack of inspection before the move-in took place, lack of communication with service users meaning that they are left waiting for the removal team to pick them up or left separated from their belongings (including important medication) for extended periods of time.
○ CASE D: Orchard and Shipman staff confirmed that the service user was on the relocation list and would be moved on a specific date. The service user packed her and her child’s belongings and stayed in the property all day and no one came on the date given by the staff member. When she called Orchard and Shipman’s office she was told that someone would come the following day (they did not). After two weeks of waiting, a member of the senior management team came to the property and deemed it not fit for purpose. Despite this, the service-user was not relocated for another 5-6 weeks. This meant that the service user was given false hope for a move, had to pack, unpack and re-pack her belongings everyday for 6 weeks and also had to cope with living in a property which was unfit for purpose, which in turn worsened her child’s asthma during this lengthy waiting period.
● Inappropriate sharing arrangements including breaching the contract by placing service users who do not share a common language in the same property, lack of privacy for breastfeeding mothers, lack of cultural sensitivity between vegetarian and meat-eating service users sharing properties.
○ CASE E: A heavily pregnant service user is currently sharing a one bed property with another heavily pregnant woman. COMPASS outlines that service users should share a common language, in this case they do not. The two service users are unable to communicate normally and they are obliged to use google translate or sign language to communicate with one another.
● Lengthy delays for repairs and inadequate accommodation provided in in the interim.
○ CASE F: A service user with three children under five years old who was on section 4 support was informed that she had to leave her property ‘for a couple of days’ due to a faulty window. During a period of 3 weeks they were placed in three different hotels in different locations across the city and had no access to laundry or cooking facilities. CASE F was provided with just £5 per person of food vouchers per day, and had to rely on charitable donations in order to take 4 buses to get to the nearest supermarket where she was unable to buy food to cook hot meals for her children anyway, due to the lack of cooking facilities. They were not provided with breakfast, and the eldest son visibly lost weight during this time due to the lack of adequate food and cooking provision. Despite Orchard and Shipman being aware of the situation, the family was not moved into adequate temporary accommodation until our staff members escalated the complaint to senior management.
Problems with staff members:
Service users experienced problems with:
● Aggressive and intimidating behaviour including shouting at service users on the phone and in person.
○ CASE A : A senior member of staff entered the property and shouted and used intimidating body language when requesting that the service user move her belongings from a spare room to allow for a new service user to move in (she had not been informed of this prior to the visit). CASE B had recently undergone surgery and was unable to move the belongings at which point the staff member began to shout and made the racist comment “you mean you can’t help your fellow Africans like you”. The staff member’s behaviour was so aggressive that the service user felt obliged to lock herself and her family in her room because she was worried for their safety. There was a lack of adequate response regarding this complaint and none of the issues were resolved; a contract manager even told a member of GCIN staff in person that the complaint was nonsense. We find it extremely worrying that (1) the complaint was not taken seriously or followed through the appropriate channels, (2) that there was no resolution to the complaint, and furthermore, (3) that the staff member accused of intimidating behaviour by more than 3 individuals has now been promoted to a more senior position.
● Inappropriate behaviour regarding entering property without prior consent when service users are not there, visiting properties outside of normal working hours and not using ID badges.
○ CASE G: someone claiming to be a staff member from Orchard and Shipman tried to enter the property of a service user (who was a victim of sexual violence) without ID. When CASE F refused to answer, he became angry and said that she had to let him in because ‘they pay for her flat’; she then called the police. A female staff member (with ID) then came later. The same service user was also visited outside of normal working hours by Orchard and Shipman staff at 2am on a Saturday night to make arrangements for a new service user to move in. Given the service user’s extremely vulnerable position, this staff behaviour was completely unacceptable and created undue distress for her on more than one occasion.
● Threatening behaviour
○ CASE H: When moved into a new property, the service user was forced to sign an occupancy agreement that she didn’t understand by an Orchard and Shipman member of staff. The service user thought the flat was not fit for purpose (it was far too small for her and her young child). However, the staff member threatened her, claiming that if she did not sign the agreement he would throw out her possessions. Not only was this threatening behaviour extremely distressing for the service user, the fact that her concerns were dismissed meant that she ended up being forced to live in accommodation which was too small for her family. She then had to endure a lengthy complaints process regarding this accommodation.
In several of these cases, the same staff members were complained about. The trend in the complaint resolution letters is that the staff members were subject to internal investigation but no further information was provided. Given that complaints continued to be submitted about these same staff members, this suggests that the investigation was either not appropriately conducted or that the staff were not provided with suitable training following the incidents.
To conclude, our staff and the service users that we represent have had a very negative experience of working with Orchard and Shipman. Orchard and Shipman’s management of the COMPASS contract created undue stress and hardship for service users who already often have multiple complex needs and disempowered them during this process as they had to rely on charity representatives in order to attempt to resolve them. This was made even more difficult by the incomplete and inadequate complaint resolutions which were offered by Orchard and Shipman. As previously mentioned, this created a situation in which we frequently felt obliged to escalate problems in order to gain some sort of satisfactory outcome.