In all procedures for determining a first claim asylum seekers, who can show that otherwise they would be destitute, are entitled to accommodation and/or a weekly sum of money.
Most asylum seekers are provided with initial accommodation (reception centres) for two or three weeks, and then further accommodation which is in the same region of the country as administratively defined by the Home Office. This may be at a considerable distance from where they made their initial claim.
Following a tender process new contracts to provide accommodation were announced in January 2019. One of the previous providers did not receive a contract this time. In March 2019 the government responded to the Parliamentary Committee’s report about this process and its recommendations for smooth transition. The transition was heavily criticised, and the service provided under the new contracts continue to receive attention including in a joint report in July 2020. The accommodation and support contracts were also investigated by the National Audit Office which has a responsibility to audit the use of public funds. Its report, in July 2020, was then, as a matter of protocol, discussed by the parliamentary committee the Public Accounts Committee. The theme of all the criticism is that the contractors are not meeting the needs of people in the asylum system. By the time of the Public Accounts Committee inquiry the focus had moved to the increased use of ‘contingency accommodation’; the use of which increased from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic although had begun before that time. The Home Affairs Select Committee conducted an inquiry specifically into the use of contingency institutional accommodation with a focus on the response the pandemic. Its key recommendation to the Home Office was to work on a strategy to end the use of this type of accommodation. The government’s response largely repeated its position in the support and advice provided.
The assessment of destitution
In practice asylum seekers are required to prove that they are destitute and this is strictly enforced. All assets which are available to them are taken into account, whether in the UK or elsewhere, if they consist of cash, savings, investments, land, cars or other vehicles, and goods held for the purpose of a trade or other business. If relevant assets come to light which were not declared, support can be stopped and payments made can be recovered, although it appears that recovery happens infrequently in practice. Asylum seekers are expected to use the assets they have before being granted asylum support, but once they are assessed as destitute there is no requirement for contributions from them.
At the point at which an asylum support application is made, the applicant completes the form ASF1; they can get help from the voluntary sector to do this. Applicants have to state that they understand the following as part of the form:
“Failure to disclose all necessary information or to provide false information regarding myself or any of my dependants may lead to information being passed to the police or other agencies for investigation. Note that failure to supply the required information may result in your application for support being refused.”
Specific questions are asked about financial resources available to the applicant, on this form.
Quality of decision making on support applications has been a significant obstacle, particularly in relation to the destitution test. Between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020 the Asylum Support Tribunal allowed 66% of the appeal cases where the client was represented by lawyers from the Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP) and remitted a further 9% back to the Home Office to retake the decision.
Emergency support: Section 98 Support
During the assessment of a person’s eligibility for Section 95 support, asylum seekers may receive support on a temporary basis (“Section 98 support”). This can only be received once the claim is registered and is mainly non-cash assistance. The application must be made on a prescribed form, and this is the only formal requirement. There is a policy that a destitute asylum seeker should be seen the same day so that they can register their asylum claim and claim Section 98 support.
Home Office guidance provides that asylum seekers may stay in initial accommodation for a short time after their initial support under Section 98 has ended. Where further support has been refused this can be up to 7 days; where leave has been granted, up to 28 days; where leave has been refused, 21 days. If there are children, support can continue. This also continued in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and although the Home office began to cease support to refused applicants in the autumn of 2020, this was legally challenged and an order from the judge ensured that at the time of writing refused applicants support usually continued, although this was not automatic and cessation of support letters had to be appealed.
Section 95 Support
Once the destitution assessment is complete, an asylum seeker who is accepted to be destitute receives what is commonly referred as Section 95 support. They are considered destitute if they do not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it, or else they do have adequate accommodation but no means of meeting their other essential needs, or else they will be in this position within 14 calendar days. The entitlement to Section 95 support covers the asylum procedure and continues until 28 calendar days after a form of leave is granted or, if the claim is refused, until 21 calendar days after a non-appealable decision or the expiry of the time allowed to appeal the most recent decision (this is called Appeal Rights Exhausted, ARE). Support is provided using a card (ASPEN) which works on the visa platform; it can be used as a debit card or to withdraw cash from an ATM (cash is available for s95 beneficiaries only).
Once an asylum claim is refused and appeal rights exhausted, Section 95 support stops, except for families with children. In August 2015 the government launched a consultation proposing to stop the support of families also when claims are refused. Before the results of the consultation were announced, a Bill was introduced into Parliament to bring these proposals into law. The Immigration Act 2016 outlined the measures, although that part of the Act is yet to be enacted and details will not be known until a month prior to the introduction. Asylum seekers then become absolutely destitute, with no entitlement to accommodation or money. People in this position may be reliant on friends, who may themselves be in asylum support accommodation which prohibits guests, and who thus risk losing their support by hosting a friend. Many destitute refused asylum seekers rely on charities for food vouchers, food parcels, sometimes accommodation (mainly through voluntary hosting schemes) or small amounts of money. One reason that the backlog of unresolved asylum cases has caused such public concern is that refused asylum seekers, who may still be trying to establish their claim, may spend years in destitution.
Obstacles to claiming support include that the application form is 33 pages long, is in English only and is only available online. A 17-page guidance document gives advice on how to complete it. Telephone advice is also available from the charity Migrant Help under a government contract. The Migrant Help website also has multilingual guides to claiming asylum support, amongst other issues. Any supporting documentation is also handled by Migrant Help; documents can be scanned and communicated to the Home Office via Migrant Help, avoiding the need to submit original documents. Asylum seekers in initial accommodation centres are assisted to make this application and face to face advice is available there.
Where asylum claimants have been in the UK for some time without government assistance, it may be difficult for them, especially without advice, to gather the right evidence for support claims. They may need to get letters from friends / acquaintances they have lost touch with for example, to show what support they have and why this is no longer available to them. Information on Migrant Help’s website informs applicants that all information and supporting documents must be provided before the application is submitted to the Home Office. If applicants do not have this information they will experience a delay in their application for support being processed.
The policy of dispersing asylum seekers round the UK and usually away from the south east may also provide a disincentive to ask for accommodation from the Home Office. Asylum seekers may decide to live in poor conditions with friends or relatives in London rather than move far away from them and perhaps their legal adviser.
Support may be available (accommodation and subsistence payments, the level determined by need) from local authorities where the person is destitute and in need of care and attention because of physical or mental ill health, but recognition of this statutory provision is very uneven around the country and some local authorities simply do not assess refused asylum seekers, or delay for lengthy periods, despite the statutory duty to do so. Where ill health results from destitution, and not from another condition, local authority support is not available. Thus it does not present any solution for the people whose health is ruined by years in destitution. Revised guidance was published in 2018 reflecting the provisions in the Care Act (applying to England) and similar provisions in devolved administrations and the relationship between local authority duties and Home Office asylum support provision.
There is a provision for support to be refused if asylum has not been claimed as soon as reasonably practicable, unless to do so would breach the person’s human rights. This is rarely used for claims made soon after arriving in the UK, but may be used where a person claims asylum after a period of residence in the UK. Human rights protection, following the House of Lords case of Limbuela, means that a person will not be made street homeless as a result of this provision, but may be denied cash support if they have somewhere to stay.
The levels of asylum support are reviewed on an annual basis. At the beginning of the national lockdown in March 2020 and subsequent to the government’s announcement that recipients of the main welfare benefit would receive an increased level of support during the pandemic, ngos wrote to the Immigration minister to ask for a similar measure to be taken with regard to asylum support. Instead the usual review was undertaken; an interim decision in June revised the rate to £39.60 (€44.87) per week and in October the rate increased to £39.63 (€44.90). The rate prior to June was £37.75 (€42.76). This rate also now applies to those on section 4 support.
Those asylum seekers supported in full board accommodation do not ordinarily receive any cash payment. However, in October it was confirmed that in recognition of the increased use of such accommodation, those supported under section 95 and section 4 would receive £8 (€9) in cash per week to allow them to pay for essential toiletries and travel.
Additional support: Section 96(2) Support
In 2017 the Home Office published guidance on how to make applications under Section 96(2) Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The policy is not new but guidance had never been issued despite the government relying on its existence to ensure that applicants and/or their dependants in particular circumstances would have their needs met. Examples of such circumstances given in the guidance include a person whose medical needs result in higher costs or has their belongings destroyed in a fire.
Section 4 Support for rejected asylum seekers
A minority of refused asylum seekers qualify for no-choice accommodation and a form of non-cash support from the Home Office (“Section 4 support”) if they meet one of the qualifying conditions set out in the next paragraph. During 2017 the delivery of Section 4 support changed to the ASPEN card; whilst cash may not be withdrawn recipients of Section 4 support may now use the card as a debit card at any retailer accepting Visa. This card had a weekly value of £35.39 (approximately €41) per person until June when the rate rose to equal the rate of people supported under section 95. In October this rate was confirmed as £39.63 (€44.90).
Section 4 support is available only if refused asylum seekers can show either that they are not fit to travel, that they have a pending judicial review, that there is no safe and viable route of return, that they are taking all reasonable steps to return to their home country, or that it would be a breach of their human rights not to give this support. In practice this latter category is used mostly where the asylum seeker has further representations outstanding. The principle underlying this is that if a person does not meet one of the other conditions, and does not have further representations outstanding, it is not considered a breach of their human rights to leave them destitute; because it is considered that they can return to their home country. The period of Section 4 support is tied to meeting the condition. So people may submit further representations; obtain Section 4 support, move, and a few weeks later receive a refusal of their further representations and so return to destitution. This process may be repeated.
The absence of a safe and viable route of return is rarely accepted unless there is a Home Office policy of non-return in relation to the country in question. Attempting to prove that they have taken all reasonable steps to return is problematic for those who come from countries with which diplomatic relations are suspended, or whose embassies have complex requirements which are difficult to fulfil, or who belong to a group which is denied documents by their country of origin. There are also practical problems, given that they are destitute, in obtaining the fare to visit their embassy, the resources to send faxes, make phone calls, and so on.
Applications for Section 4 support for refused asylum seekers must be made through the online and telephone service, except for vulnerable applicants who can have a face to face appointment at the initial accommodation centres or at an outreach centre where these exist.
For all refused asylum seekers who cannot fulfil the conditions for Section 4 support, with the exception of families who have retained Section 95 support, (see below) there is no support available. If, for whatever reason, they are unable to return to their country of origin, these asylum seekers are left destitute and homeless.
The numbers of refused asylum seekers who are absolutely destitute in the UK is unknown. The British Red Cross used to provide regular updates on its website on the asylum seekers it helps because of destitution. The last time it publicly reported was in 2017 when the charity supported more than 15,000 destitute asylum seekers and refugees. In its annual report of 2019 it stated that it had helped 40,500 refugees and asylum seekers, including 14,300 people facing destitution because of their legal status.
Government response to the Home Affairs Select Committee on asylum accommodation, available at: https://bit.ly/30M6Yhi.
Wake up call; how government contracts fail people seeking asylum, Asylum Matters, Refugee Action and others, July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39kS3Ai
Asylum accommodation and support National Audit Office, July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3a7T8L8
Asylum support and accommodation transition programme Public Accounts Committee, November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3acK2wN
Home Office preparedness for coronavirus (Covid 19) institutional accommodation, Home Affairs Select Committee, July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3a6838B
Home Office preparedness for coronavirus (Covid 19) institutional accommodation, government response, November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2KSVNzD
Reg. 20 Asylum Support Regulations 2000.
ASAP, Bulletins and quarterly stats, available at: https://bit.ly/3t6wM4t.
Section 98 IAA 1999.
Home Office, Application for asylum support: Form ASF 1, 11 January 2016.
Home Office, Asylum Support Bulletin 73: Access to Support.
High Court Interim relief order in QBB v Secretary of State and Asylum Support Tribunal available to download from: https://bit.ly/2NBeskp
Section 95 IAA 1999.
Schedule 11 Immigration Act 2016.
Migrant Help advice, see: https://bit.ly/2Gg1Qsc.
Section 9 Care Act 2014.
Section 55 NIAA 2002; House of Lords, Limbuela v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKHL 66.
House of Lords, Limbuela  UKHL 66.
Letter to ngos from the Immigration Minister, October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3a60w9T
The numbers of refused asylum seekers in the UK are unknown, but the proportion on Section 4 is small.
Immigration and Asylum (Provision of Accommodation to Failed Asylum Seekers) Regulations 2005.
British Red Cross, ‘Speaking up for ending refugee poverty’, 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2GsWrOJ .
British Red Cross, Annual Review 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3l98q7p.