HOUSE OF COMMONS LIBRARY
Asylum: Financial support for asylum seekers
Standard Note: SN/HA/1909
Last updated: 9 January 2013
Author: Melanie Gower
Section Home Affairs Section
This information is provided to Members of Parliament in support of their parliamentary duties and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. It should not be relied upon as being up to date; the law or policies may have changed since it was last updated; and it should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice or as a substitute for it. A suitably qualified professional should be consulted if specific advice or information is required.
This information is provided subject to our general terms and conditions which are available online or may be provided on request in hard copy. Authors are available to discuss the content of this briefing with Members and their staff, but not with the general public.
Asylum seekers are not eligible for mainstream welfare benefits whilst waiting for a decision on their asylum application. If they are destitute, they can apply to the UK Border Agency for accommodation and/or financial support instead.
Local authorities are responsible for providing support to unaccompanied asylum seeker children. They have very limited duties to support destitute adults subject to immigration control who have care needs.
Asylum support is terminated once a final decision has been made on an asylum application. Those who are granted leave to remain in the UK become eligible to work and access mainstream welfare benefits. Refused asylum seekers have few support options, although some may be eligible for a more limited form of support (known as 'section 4 support').
As a general rule, asylum seekers are not allowed to work - limited exceptions are made for persons who have been waiting over 12 months for a decision on their claim. If granted, permission to work lasts until a final decision is made on the asylum application. It only entitles asylum seekers to do jobs on the UK Border Agency's shortage occupation list.
This note provides a brief summary of the asylum support arrangements. Library standard note SN05621 Viral emails protesting about financial assistance for "illegal immigrants/refugees living in Britain" may also be of interest.
Destitute individuals who submit an asylum application "as soon as reasonably practicable" after arriving in the UK can apply for accommodation and/or financial support from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) whilst their claim is being decided, under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.  Section 95(3) of the 1999 Act defines destitution:
For the purposes of this section, a person is destitute if—
(a) he does not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it (whether or not his other essential living needs are met); or
(b) he has adequate accommodation or the means of obtaining it, but cannot meet his other essential living needs.
Asylum seekers must sign an 'asylum support agreement' document signalling their acceptance of the terms and conditions attached to the support; support may be stopped if a person does not keep to the conditions. 
Accommodation is provided by private providers contracted to provide the services on behalf of the UKBA. It is offered on a no-choice basis, generally in areas outside of London and the south-east. Asylum seekers may be required to move into different types of accommodation, depending on which stage they are at in the asylum process.
Financial support is collected in cash from a local Post Office upon presentation of an Application Registration Card ('ARC card'), which confirms the asylum seeker's identity and eligibility for support.
Further details of asylum seekers' entitlements to financial and accommodation support (as well as education, employment and healthcare services) can be found on the 'Asylum support' page of the UKBA website.
Current support amounts
During passage of what became the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the then government stated an intention 'to make regular annual reviews of the level at which support is to be provided to asylum seekers'. 
It has been successive governments' practice to review rates annually and uprate them in line with inflation (through regulations), although there is no statutory obligation to do so.
The current asylum support rates came into effect on 18 April 2011.  Answers to PQs in summer 2012 confirmed that a review of asylum support rates for 2012-13 was ongoing.  However, this did not lead to any changes in asylum support rates. More recently, the Minister for Immigration has stated that "there are no current plans to review the asylum support rates". 
The current support rates are set out on the UKBA website:
The level of cash support we provide takes into account the fact that asylum applicants have access to fully furnished and rent-free accommodation with utilities (such as electricity, gas and water) included. The current rates of support are:
• Qualifying couple (married or in a civil partnership): £72.52
• Lone parent aged 18 or over: £43.94
• Single person aged 18 or over, excluding lone parent: £36.62
• Person aged at least 16, but under 18 (except a member of a qualifying couple): £39.80
• Person aged under 16: £52.96.
Extra money for mothers and children
If you are a woman who is pregnant or with children under three, you can receive extra money to help you buy healthy food.
A baby under the age of 12 months receives an extra £5 a week. Pregnant women and children aged between one and three years receive an extra £3 a week.
If you are pregnant, you may be able to receive a £300 maternity payment, if you meet certain requirements. This money is to help you with the costs of having the baby. You can receive it only once. 
Prior to 5 October 2009, the support rates for single adult asylum seekers varied, depending on whether they were under or over 25 years old. This reflected the fact that the asylum support system was originally modelled on the structure for Income Support (which provides for lower benefit rates for 18 - 24 year olds than persons over 25). 
However, in 2009 the Home Office decided that the rationale for providing for a higher support rate for over 25s did not apply to asylum seekers, since "All asylum applicants have access to rent free accommodation with utilities included. Therefore essential living needs of supported asylum seekers do not change on the 25th birthday."  Consequently, single adults applying for asylum support since 5 October 2009 have been eligible for the same amount of cash support, regardless of their age.
Exceptions to eligibility for UKBA asylum support
Under section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, asylum seekers are not entitled to support from the UKBA whilst their asylum application is under consideration if they are found not to have applied for asylum "as soon as reasonably practicable". However, there are exceptions for families, people with special needs and cases where a refusal of support would be a breach of the individual's human rights. 
Local authorities, rather than the UKBA, are responsible for providing support to unaccompanied asylum seeker children under the Children Act 1989 or Children (Scotland) Act 1995). 
Local authorities' duties to support destitute adults subject to immigration control who have a care need, such as under the National Assistance Act 1948, are limited. They are not obliged to provide support to all foreign nationals facing destitution. For example, section 54 and Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 exclude certain categories of foreign national from eligibility for assistance, including refused asylum seekers who have not cooperated with removal directions and persons unlawfully in the UK. The No Recourse to Public Funds Network works with and on behalf of local authorities on these issues. It has produced a briefing which explains how local authorities should approach assessing whether they have a duty to support.  The Asylum Support Appeals Project also has a factsheet on local authorities' duties. 
Section 4 support for adults
Asylum seekers who have been refused asylum and exhausted the appeals process cease to be eligible for asylum support under section 95 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1999. Asylum support is terminated 21 days after the claim has been finally determined. 
In limited circumstances refused asylum seekers can apply for an alternative form of support from the UKBA (known as 'section 4' or 'hard cases' support), under the provisions set out in section 4 of the 1999 Act.
Persons in receipt of section 4 support are not given cash. Instead, they are given accommodation and an 'Azure' payment card, which is credited with £35.39 per person per week and can be used in specified retail outlets to buy food and essential toiletries.  In some cases, full-board accommodation may be provided. Persons in receipt of section 4 support can apply for certain additional services or facilities (such as the cost of travel to a medical appointment).
The UKBA website page on section 4 support includes the following guidance about its eligibility criteria:
You must meet strict requirements in order to qualify for section 4 support. You must be destitute and satisfy one of the following requirements:
• you are taking all reasonable steps to leave the UK or you are placing yourself in a position where you can do so; or
• you cannot leave the UK because of a physical impediment to travel or for some other medical reason; or
• you cannot leave the UK because, in the Secretary of State's opinion, no viable route of return is currently available; or
• you have applied for a judicial review of your asylum application and have been given permission to proceed with it; or
• accommodation is necessary to prevent a breach of your rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998. 
Families with children under 18
Refused asylum seeker households which include dependents under 18 years old generally continue to receive asylum support (under section 95 of the 1999 Act) until they are removed from the UK, although support may be terminated if they fail to abide by the asylum support conditions. 
There are legislative powers which allow for the withdrawal of support from refused asylum seeker households with dependents under 18 years old, but these have not been widely used. For example, section 9(1) of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, Etc) Act 2004 controversially extended the criteria for refusing support under Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to include failed asylum-seekers and their dependents if it is considered that they have "failed without reasonable excuse" to leave the UK. Concerns were raised when these provisions were being debated in Parliament that they would result in the children of refused asylum seekers being separated from their parents and put into local authority care, since local authorities would continue to have obligations for the children under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. 
The Home Office piloted the use of section 9 powers to withdraw asylum support from 116 refused families between December 2004 and December 2005. Its subsequent evaluation report concluded that the pilot "did not significantly influence behaviour in cooperating with removal".  Section 9 powers are not routinely used.
Support from local authorities
As previously referred to, Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 prevents local authorities from providing support to refused asylum seekers who have not cooperated with removal directions and persons unlawfully in the UK, unless refusing support breaches their human rights. Refusing to provide support might not breach human rights, for example, if it is a viable option for the person to return to their country of origin. 
UKBA decisions to refuse or withdraw asylum support can be challenged by way of an appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal (Asylum Support). A notice of appeal must be lodged within 3 working days of receipt of a letter refusing support, and there are also short timescales for the consideration and determination of the appeal.  The website of the First-Tier Tribunal (Asylum Support) has some information about asylum support appeals, including appeal forms and guidance, a list of frequently asked questions, and a searchable database of appeal decisions.
The Tribunal is based in east London. Appellants can request an oral hearing or have their appeal considered on the papers. When determining an appeal, Tribunal Judges can either request the UKBA to reconsider its decision, substitute the UKBA's decision with one of their own, or dismiss the appeal. Decisions by Asylum Support Tribunal Judges can only be challenged by judicial review.
Legal aid is not available for asylum support appeals. The Asylum Support Appeals Project is a voluntary organisation which, amongst other services, provides some free legal advice and representation in relation to asylum support appeals. It also has some useful information on its website for asylum seekers and advisers about asylum support entitlements and rights of appeal.
As a general rule, asylum seekers are not allowed to work whilst waiting for a decision on their asylum claim.
However, they can apply for permission to work if they have waited for over 12 months for an initial decision on their asylum claim (from the date it was recorded), and are not considered responsible for the delay in decision-making.  If granted, permission to work expires once the asylum claim has been finally determined (i.e. when all appeal rights are exhausted). Asylum seekers granted permission to work since 9 September 2010 can only do jobs on the UKBA's shortage occupation list.
Refused asylum seekers cannot apply for permission to work, unless they have submitted further submissions for asylum and have waited for over 12 months for a decision.
Library standard note SN/HA/1908 Asylum seekers and the right to work considers the debate surrounding asylum seekers' right to work in the UK in more detail.
 The "as soon as reasonably practicable" requirement is discussed further in section 2 of this standard note.
 See Library standard note SN03793 Social security benefits and tax credits for people under 25 for explanation.
 See UKBA, Asylum Support Policy Bulletin 75 'Section 55 (late claims) 2002 Act guidance' v.10.0 (accessed on 8 January 2013)
 ASAP, Factsheet 8 'Local Authority Assistance for Asylum Seekers and Refused Asylum Seekers' , September 2011
 Asylum Support Regulations 2000, SI 2000/704 (as amended), r2, 2A
 Border and Immigration Agency, Family Asylum Policy The Section 9 Implementation Project, 25 June 2007
 Asylum Support Appeals (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2003 SI 2003/1735