PRESS RELEASE: 16th Dec. 2022: WHISTLEBLOWER SPEAKS OUT ABOUT SAFEGUARDING, RACISM AND SCABIES AT SERCO’S ASYLUM “HOTEL” IN WARRINGTON
RAPAR PRESS RELEASE
For immediate release. Friday, December 16th 2022
For more information, please contact:
Kath Grant 07865 713474 Dr Rhetta Moran 07776 264646
WHISTLEBLOWER SPEAKS OUT ABOUT SAFEGUARDING, RACISM AND SCABIES AT SERCO’S ASYLUM “HOTEL” IN WARRINGTON
“It was not social care, it was more like police work,” she says
A qualified social worker, who spent nearly a year as a housing officer in a Serco managed hotel for newly arrived refugees, says she made the decision to leave because of her serious concerns about a lack of safeguarding and the mistreatment of many of the residents.
Jane worked as a social worker before taking a break for family reasons. Previously, she worked for local authorities and non-profit making organisations but wants to do a “return to practice” and re-registration course next year. She applied for the job in the Warrington hotel (one of three in the town accommodating people in the asylum system) because she saw it as a way of “easing herself back into the social care sector.”
But the hotel she worked in did not operate as social care. “It was more like police work: the staff policed the residents.”
Like all the asylum housing in the North West, the hotel is managed by Serco as part of their contract with the Home Office. Jane’s description of conditions at the hotel and treatment of residents more than supports the reports RAPAR has received about similar conditions and mistreatment in hotels in Stockport and Manchester.
The Warrington hotel is owned by a businessman in the Midlands who has a contract with Serco and the Home Office.
Jane says: “I think it was purely an investment and he bought it at the start of the pandemic.” She was told that he had “influential connections” but is not sure what that means.
One of the problems is the way the staff are recruited, she says. This is done through the Berkeley Scott agency “a leading provider of recruitment solutions for Hotels, Catering and Support Services.”
“They have no experience in social care but all staff, even housing officers, were recruited through them. Most of the staff are not trained in social care, they have worked in hotels and other jobs but have no idea about procedures relating to safeguarding, for example.”
She refers to health concerns which are mirrored in the Stockport hotel where the local authority had to step in to arrange treatment for a scabies outbreak.
“I don’t think there was a time when the hotel I worked in was free from scabies. It is highly contagious but should clear up with proper treatment.
“The problem is that deep cleaning is not being done properly and bedding and towels are not being changed daily. People share rooms and possibly towels so it can easily spread.
“One person had been diagnosed with scabies by a GP and I said his towels and bedding should be changed every day. Another member of staff stopped that and said it did not need to be done because the resident had eczema not scabies. He was not medically qualified and was over-ruling a GP’s diagnosis.”
No consideration was given to appropriate diets for people with health conditions. “GPs advise people on the kind of food they should be eating but staff do not take this into account.” This sometimes led to people becoming very hungry. Jane describes one occasion when there was food left over at breakfast, a resident took a third egg and was told to put it back.
She outlines serious safety worries, racist language and behaviour, and mistreatment of the residents. She used the complaints channel within Serco – “Speak Up Serco” - to report these concerns, including two racist incidents, but received no proper feedback and said it was like “reporting Serco to Serco.”
Two members of staff were convicted sex offenders and they both left the hotel. Jane says one of them only left after his DBS check came through but he had already been working at the hotel for five or six months.
“There were a lot of vulnerable people living there, including young men whose ages were disputed by the Home Office. A couple of them were moved in the end so they were minors.” She points out that some staff worked night shifts at other hotels housing women and children.
DBS checks were the responsibility of Berkeley Scott, Jane says. “I was working there for some months before my DBS came through. I told them I had worked in social care but I could have been anybody. I asked Serco if they wanted to see copies of my social work degree certificate and two references but they said they didn’t need to do that. I did take in my certificate though.”
She left because she could not work in the kind of environment where residents were often mistreated and racism and safety concerns were ignored. “I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was given the option of going to another hotel but refused.”
She reported a racist comment made by one member of staff. It was supposed to have been investigated by Serco and the person concerned was taken off the rota temporarily.
“The treatment of residents was appalling. Staff spoke to them in a harsh and dismissive way.
“While you can’t rule out human error in some cases, people have been left sleeping outside with staff refusing to let them back into the hotel. That happened on more than one occasion.”
Residents were allowed to stay away for three nights but, if they stayed away for longer, they were not allowed back into the hotel and told they would lose their place.
“It was a kind of punishment. They weren’t allowed back inside – not to go to the toilet or anything. But they felt safer sleeping in the grounds of the hotel rather than out on the streets.”
Jane said one man had been at the mosque during Ramadan but was refused entry because he had stayed away too long,
“He was an older man, a lecturer and very religious. It wasn’t as if he had been gallivanting round the town, he had been at the mosque.
“I couldn’t believe it and neither could the taxi driver the mosque had asked to bring him back to the hotel. It really opened his eyes.” Jane said the man rang Migrant Help but the taxi driver complained about the poor quality of translation from the interpreter and he took the man back to the mosque that night.
Jane cited examples of other men who were adamant they had not stayed outside the hotel for more than three nights. But they were refused entry and staff signposted them to the police.
“The police can’t do anything because people who are living in the hotels have no recourse to public funds and, in any case, they are often petrified of the police because of what they have experienced in their home countries.”
She remembers at least one occasion someone was refused entry when there was no proper record of when he had left and returned to the hotel.
Jane says complaining to Migrant Help, the charity which is supposed to report issues about asylum accommodation to the Home Office, is a “complete waste of time.”
She was told staff had been in residents’ rooms while they were not there and had gone through their belongings. She said it was “common practice” for staff to go through drawers when residents were not in the rooms.
One young man told her the Home Office had not returned his bag which contained important documents. Jane asked Serco managers if they could check with the Home Office but they were “not interested.”
“This was not just a bag, it was his whole life. It contained photos and information about his family, and notes from his university degree course which he hoped to pursue once he had leave to remain.
“He had walked half way across Europe to claim asylum and the documents were his only link with his family. He also needed them as evidence for his case. No-one cared, they did not try to find out what had happened to the bag. There is a real imbalance of power.”
Jane also challenged a colleague about residents being denied taxis when they had hospital appointments. The rule was that, if the hospital was more than three miles from the hotel, transport could be arranged – otherwise they had to walk.
“This member of staff said it was 2.9 miles to the hospital and, when I pointed out that on Google it showed up as 3.1 miles, she said she wasn’t ordering a taxi for point 1 of a mile. But I insisted.
“Before then, people were expected to walk. Apart from anything else, a six-mile round trip is a long way if you’re ill enough to need hospital appointments.”
There was not adequate cultural and religious awareness. On one occasion the caterers, who had a separate contract, were furious when a member of the Serco staff used the kitchen and utensils inappropriately.
“The Serco staff weren’t properly trained, they had no idea how to behave when they were working with people from different cultures and religions.
“They spoke in a rude manner to people who had been tortured and traumatised. There were so many incidents with residents saying they wanted to kill themselves. I have witnessed staff screaming at people, speaking to them harshly and dismissively.”
Jane said a resident wanted to take out a complaint against two members of Serco staff. “I had worked for local authorities where you would always go through the complaints procedure - but I advised him not to bother because it would be a waste of time and I was concerned there might be repercussions.
“The staff make a note on the files of people who make complaints and residents worry that it will be reported to the Home Office.
“I knew I had to leave when I had become so deeply affected myself, through witnessing safeguarding breaches, racism, bullying, lack of health care, that I was advising residents not to use their right to make a complaint.”
She can cite a list of repairs which were waiting to be done and had not been carried out when she left, including broken fire doors.
When Jane did her induction training at another Warrington hotel, she and others were told by Serco staff that the company was heavily fined by the Home Office if a resident who had been moved to other accommodation was still on Serco’s system.
“They quoted massive figures – and Serco had paid these huge fines so that’s an indication of how much the contract with the Home Office is worth. But I would not be surprised if people had remained on the system because the hotel staff don’t keep proper records of people coming in and going out.”
Jane describes the hotel as: “A very depressing environment, very run down. A mess from top to bottom really.
“They can’t get the staff and more residents are being placed there, they just do not have the staff to manage it properly. It is not fit for vulnerable people. Clothes are not adequate and residents are often going outside in flip flops and without coats.”
She says flip flops are issued to all hotel residents by the Home Office and adds: “You would think they could at least give them some basic trainers!”
Jane was inspired to speak out by the courage RAPAR member Shay Babagar and other residents have shown in their attempts to expose what is happening at the Serco managed contingency hotels. “I am really surprised other former staff have not come forward. We knew it was similar in other hotels. Shay has shown great courage in speaking out yet Serco is denying what is being said.
“Perhaps, together, we can show what is really happening.”
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