Skip to main content
Skip to main content

New House of Commons Library briefing on accommodation and financial support for asylum seekers

Summary:

Updated research briefing with a summary of asylum support arrangements and recent scrutiny reports

Date of Publication:
04 February 2015

New House of Commons Library briefing on accommodation and financial support for asylum seekers

04 February 2015
EIN

The House of Commons Library yesterday published a new research briefing on the provision of accommodation and financial support for asylum seekers.

The briefing notes that asylum support rates have not increased since April 2011, despite the High Court ruling in April that Home Secretary Theresa May "failed to take reasonable steps to gather sufficient information to enable her to make a rational judgment in setting the asylum support rates for 2013/2014."

The Government has since reviewed asylum support rates, taking the judgment into account, but concluded that the support rates should remain unchanged, the House of Commons Library says.

You can read the full text of the useful briefing below:

________________________

HOUSE OF COMMONS LIBRARY

Accommodation and financial support for asylum seekers

Standard Note: SN/HA/1909

Last updated: 3 February 2015

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. Instead, if they are destitute, they can apply to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI, a Home Office directorate) for accommodation and/or financial support ('asylum support').

Asylum support is terminated once a final decision has been made on an asylum application (i.e. when there are no further appeal rights). Asylum seekers granted permission to remain in the UK become eligible to work and access mainstream welfare benefits. Refused asylum seekers are expected to leave the UK. They have few support options, although some may be eligible for a more limited form of cashless support (known as 'section 4 support') if the Home Office accepts that there are temporary barriers to their departure.

Asylum support rates have not increased since April 2011. In April 2014 the High Court found that the Government's decision to freeze asylum support rates for 2013/14 was "irrational" and "flawed", in a judicial review brought by the charity Refugee Action. The Government has since reviewed asylum support rates, taking the judgment into account, but concluded that the support rates should remain unchanged.

Local authorities are responsible for providing support to unaccompanied asylum seeking children. They have very limited duties to support destitute adults subject to immigration control who have care needs.

As a general rule, asylum seekers are not allowed to work whilst they are waiting for a decision on their asylum application.

This note provides a brief summary of the asylum support arrangements and recent scrutiny reports. Other Library briefings on asylum are available. Those on Viral emails protesting about financial assistance for "illegal immigrants/refugees living in Britain" and People from abroad: what benefits can they claim? might be of particular interest.

Contents
1 Dealing with asylum support casework: Some useful sources
2 Support available whilst an asylum application is outstanding
2.1 Accommodation and financial support
Current support amounts
2.2 Exceptions to eligibility for asylum support from UK Visas and Immigration
2.3 Other entitlements
2.4 Employment restrictions
3 Support in the event of a successful asylum claim
4 Support available to refused asylum seekers
4.1 Section 4 support if there is a temporary barrier to departure
4.2 Section 95 support for households with children under 18
4.3 Support from local authorities
5 Refusal of asylum support: Appeal rights
6 Asylum support statistics and PQs: Useful sources
7 Further reading: Recent parliamentary interest, reports, etc.

1 Dealing with asylum support casework: Some useful sources

• The Asylum support section on the GOV.UK website includes a summary of the financial and other support available to asylum seekers, the eligibility criteria, and how to apply or appeal against a refusal of support.

• Migrant Help is a registered charity funded by the Home Office to provide national asylum advice services to adult asylum seekers. The Asylum Help section on Migrant Help's website includes information about the asylum support system, multilingual information and guidance for asylum seekers, and details of how they can access Asylum Help's services. The contact details for Asylum Help's Asylum Support Application UK helpline for asylum seekers are also listed on the Asylum Helplines page on GOV.UK.

• Detailed Home Office operational policy guidance for its officials about issues related to asylum support can be found in the Home Office's collection of Asylum Support (Asylum Instructions) policy guidance documents , available from GOV.UK.

• Library standard note Constituency casework: immigration, nationality and asylum includes details of the Home Office's dedicated MPs' correspondence channels which can be used by MPs to make representations or enquiries about individual cases, as well as details of other asylum charities and sources of advice.

2 Support available whilst an asylum application is outstanding

2.1 Accommodation and financial support

Asylum seekers are not eligible for mainstream welfare benefits.

Instead, under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 ('the 1999 Act'), 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 UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI, a Home Office directorate) whilst their claim is being decided. [1]

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.

In order to be able to satisfy the 'destitution test', initial applicants must not have adequate accommodation or money to meet their expenses within the next fortnight. [2]

Accommodation is provided to asylum seekers by private providers contracted to provide the services on behalf of the Home Office. Accommodation is offered on a no-choice basis, generally in areas outside of London and the south-east, in accordance with the longstanding 'dispersal' policy. A 2014 National Audit Office report summarises the process:

Dispersal of asylum seekers

1.4 The Department first places eligible asylum seekers in hostel-style accommodation (known as 'initial accommodation') on a short-term basis while they make an application for financial assistance to the Department. Most asylum seekers make their initial claim at the asylum screening unit in Croydon, although the Department's policy is not to provide accommodation in London unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as, ongoing medical needs. Instead, the Department allocates asylum seekers to one of the six COMPASS regions, and the relevant accommodation provider transports asylum seekers to initial accommodation within this region.

1.5 The provider arranges to move asylum seekers to more permanent dispersal accommodation once the Department has assessed and confirmed their eligibility for support. Figure 1 shows the process in more detail. Providers must propose a property to the Department within five days, and should normally complete the dispersal process within nine days. Dispersal accommodation is typically a flat or shared house in which the asylum seeker is provided with bedding and basic kitchen equipment as well as basic furniture and access to cooking and washing facilities. The type of property asylum seekers are allocated depends on a number of factors, such as whether they have children living with them. [3]

It goes on to discuss the role of local authorities:

Restrictions on dispersal

1.6 Dispersal accommodation is located in particular areas in the community where the local authority has agreed to take asylum seekers up to a defined cluster limit (defined as an assumption that there will be no more than one asylum seeker per 200 residents, based on the 2001 census figures for population). In some areas local authorities have agreed a variation to this arrangement with the Department. Not all local authorities currently participate. Dispersal arrangements are subject to ongoing monitoring and review by the Department.

1.7 Under the terms of the COMPASS contracts, contractors are required to consider a range of social cohesion, housing and community factors alongside cost when proposing properties to be used for dispersal accommodation for asylum seekers. These factors include:

• the availability and concentration of accommodation;

• the capacity of local health, education and other support services; and

• the level of risk of increased social tension if the number of asylum seekers increases within a given area.

These factors are monitored by local authorities, who have the right to withdraw existing consent for specific properties to be used for asylum seeker accommodation or reject new proposals if there are any specific concerns, for example around community cohesion. [4]

Financial support is provided in cash, collected from Post Offices using the 'Application Registration Card' ('ARC card') which is issued to asylum seekers early in the asylum process as confirmation of their identity and immigration conditions.

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 they do not keep to the conditions. [5]

Current support amounts

The current weekly support rates, which have remained unchanged since 2011, are set out on the GOV.UK section on asylum support:

Your situation

Weekly payment

Married couple or couple in civil partnership

£72.52

Lone parent aged 18 or over

£43.94

Single person aged 18 or over

£36.62

Aged 16 to 18

£39.80

Aged under 16

£52.96

In addition, extra money to buy healthy food (between £3 and £5 per week) is paid to pregnant women and children under three. A one-off maternity payment (£300) is available to women who are due to give birth within eight weeks or who have a baby under six weeks old. [6]

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". [7] Successive governments have tended to conduct annual internal reviews of rates 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. [8] Although they have been reviewed by the Government since, they have stayed at the 2011/12 level, because the Government has remained satisfied that they are adequate for meeting destitute asylum seekers' essential living needs. [9]

The charity Refugee Action sought a judicial review of the Home Office's decision to leave the asylum support rates unchanged for 2013/14. In April 2014 the High Court found that the Home Office's approach had been flawed. [10] It instructed the Home Office to retake the decision in line with guidance given its judgment. In August 2014 the Home Office confirmed that it had conducted a review but remained satisfied that the 2013/14 level of asylum support should remain unchanged. [11]

Prior to 5 October 2009, there were different support rates for single adult asylum seekers under/over 25 years old. This reflected the fact that the asylum support system was originally modelled on the structure for Income Support payments (which provides for lower benefit rates for 18 - 24 year olds than for persons over 25).

However, in 2009 the Home Office decided that the rationale for providing for a higher support rate for over 25s should 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." [12] Consequently, single adults applying for asylum support since 5 October 2009 have received the same amount of cash support, regardless of their age.

The lower level of support paid in respect of children aged 16 – 18 also largely reflects historical links with Income Support. The Home Office's August 2014 review of asylum support concluded that there is no clear rationale for older children receiving a lower rate of support, but also that there is no evidence that this has resulted in households receiving an insufficient total amount of support. Although the different rate remains in place for now, the Home Office is considering options for bringing it into line with the rate for younger children. [13]

2.2 Exceptions to eligibility for asylum support from UK Visas and Immigration

Under section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, asylum seekers are not entitled to support 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. [14]

Local authorities, rather than UKVI, are responsible for providing support to unaccompanied asylum seeker children under the Children Act 1989 or Children (Scotland) Act 1995). [15]

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. [16] The Asylum Support Appeals Project (a charity that provides legal advice and representation in asylum support cases) also has a factsheet on local authorities' duties. [17]

2.3 Other entitlements

Asylum seekers are eligible for free NHS healthcare and may be eligible for free prescriptions, free dental care, free eyesight tests and vouchers for glasses.

Asylum seeker children have the same entitlement to state education as other children and may be eligible for free school meals.

2.4 Employment restrictions

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. [18]

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 official 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 on these.

Library standard note SN/HA/1908 Asylum seekers and the right to work discusses debate surrounding asylum seekers' right to work in the UK.

3 Support in the event of a successful asylum claim

People granted asylum (i.e. those who are given 'Refugee status' or 'Humanitarian Protection') or 'Discretionary Leave to Remain' have their asylum support terminated 28 days after the positive decision on their asylum claim. They become eligible to work in the UK without restrictions, and to claim mainstream welfare benefits on the same basis as British citizens.

People granted limited leave to remain on Article 8 grounds (i.e. if removal is considered to be a breach of their rights to respect for family/private life) are generally not eligible for public funds, unless the Home Office receives evidence of destitution or other compelling circumstances.

4 Support available to refused asylum seekers

4.1 Section 4 support if there is a temporary barrier to departure

Asylum seekers who have been refused asylum and exhausted the appeals process cease to be eligible for asylum support under section 95 of the 1999 Act. Asylum support is terminated 21 days after the claim has been finally determined. [19]

In limited circumstances destitute refused asylum seekers can apply for a different type of support from UKVI (known as 'section 4' support), under the provisions set out in section 4 of the 1999 Act. [20]

Section 4 support is not given in cash. Instead, accommodation and an 'Azure' payment card is provided. The card is credited with £35.39 per person per week and can be used in specified retail outlets to buy food and essential toiletries. [21] In some cases, full-board accommodation and essential toiletries may be provided instead of an Azure card. People in receipt of section 4 support can apply for certain additional services or facilities if needed (such as the cost of travel to a medical appointment).

The eligibility criteria for section 4 support are that the applicant is destitute and satisfies one or more of the following conditions:

(a)he is taking all reasonable steps to leave the United Kingdom or place himself in a position in which he is able to leave the United Kingdom, which may include complying with attempts to obtain a travel document to facilitate his departure; .

(b)he is unable to leave the United Kingdom by reason of a physical impediment to travel or for some other medical reason; .

(c)he is unable to leave the United Kingdom because in the opinion of the Secretary of State there is currently no viable route of return available; .

(d)he has made an application for judicial review of a decision in relation to his asylum claim– .

(e)the provision of accommodation is necessary for the purpose of avoiding a breach of a person's Convention rights, within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998 (for example, because they have submitted further representations) [22]

The limited nature of section 4 support is partly intended to reflect the fact that it is expected to be a temporary form of support, and to avoid creating an incentive for refused asylum seekers to remain in the UK. [23]

A PQ answered in November 2014 gave some details of the length of time that current recipients had spent on section 4 support:

Asked by Lord Roberts of Llandudno

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many people have been on support under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 for a period in excess of (1) six months, (2) one year and (3) five years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates): The information requested is shown in the following table: [24]

Length of time people have been on Section 4 support

Period on support

Number of People

6 to 12 months

684

1 year to 5 years

3013

5 years or more

698

4.2 Section 95 support for households with children under 18

Refused asylum seeker households that include children (under 18 years old) who were born before a final decision was made on the asylum claim generally continue to receive asylum support under section 95 of the 1999 Act (i.e. the same as they received whilst waiting for a decision on the claim) until the youngest child turns 18 or the family is removed from the UK. [25]

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). [26] However, section 9 powers are not routinely used after a pilot conducted over 2004-5 concluded that they did not significantly influence families' cooperation with removal. [27]

4.3 Support from local authorities

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. [28]

5 Refusal of asylum support: Appeal rights

UKVI 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. [29]

The Tribunal is based in London. Appellants can request an oral hearing or have their appeal considered on the papers. When determining an appeal, Tribunal Judges can either request that UKVI reconsider its decision, substitute UKVI'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.

6 Asylum support statistics and PQs: Useful sources

Information on applications for section 95 and section 4 asylum support is included in the Immigration statistics quarterly release tables, available from GOV.UK.

Parliamentary material relating to the provisions of asylum support, including PQs and debates, EDMs and legislation, Deposited and Parliamentary papers, can be searched for using the Parliamentary Search facility on the intranet.

Home Office Freedom of Information releases are published on GOV.UK.

7 Further reading: Recent parliamentary interest, reports, etc.

Parliamentary interest

• EDM 99 of 2014-15 'High Court judgment on asylum support'

• Urgent Question on Asylum Seekers (Support), HC Deb 10 April 2014 c 415-424

• Debate on section 4 support in Immigration Bill Public Bill Committee, PBC Deb 19 November 2013 c402-406

• Westminster Hall debate on Asylum Suport (Children and Young People), HC Deb 27 February 2013 c67WH-89WH

Inquiries, inspection reports, NGO campaigns, etc.

• Home Affairs Committee, Asylum, HC 71 of 2013-14, 11 October 2013; Government response to the seventh report from the Home Affairs Committee session HC 71 2013-14 Asylum, Cm 8769, December 2013

Chapter 3 of the Committee's report considers levels of financial support for asylum seekers, restrictions on asylum seekers' rights to work, and the quality of accommodation provided to asylum seekers.

• The Children's Society, Report of the Parliamentary inquiry into asylum support for children and young people, January 2013

A report of an inquiry conducted by a cross-party panel of Parliamentarians supported by The Children's Society. The recommendations included abolishing Section 4 support in favour of "a single cash-based support system for all children and their families who need asylum support while they are in the UK"; aligning asylum support for families provided with accommodation with mainstream benefit rates paid for living expenses; and increasing support annually and at least in line with Income Support. The Children's Society launched a campaign to End Forced Destitution to take forward the report's recommendations.

• National Audit Office, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation to asylum seekers, 10 January 2014 (see also Public Accounts Committee, COMPASS: Provision of asylum accommodation, HC 1000 of 2013-13, 24 April 2014 and Government responses on reports of the Committee of Public Accounts session 2013-14, Cm 8871, June 2014)

• Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, An inspection of Asylum Support September 2013 – January 2014; Home Office, The Home Office's response to the independent Chief Inspector's report both published July 2014

The Independent Chief Inspector concluded that the Home Office was deciding applications for asylum support fairly, but there was no effective strategy in place to identify and tackle asylum support fraud.

• Refugee Action campaign to Bring back dignity to our asylum support system

• Refugee Council, 28 days later: experiences of new refugees in the UK, 22 May 2014

• British Red Cross, The Azure payment card the humanitarian cost of a cashless system, 25 July 2014

• Asylum Support Appeals Project, UKBA decision making audit one year on, still no credibility, May 2013

• Refugee Council/Maternity Action, When maternity doesn't matter: Dispersing pregnant women seeking asylum, 25 February 2013

© Parliamentary copyright

(End)

[1] Whilst waiting for a decision on the support application, temporary full-board or self-catering accommodation can be provided under section 98 of the 1999 Act.

[2] Asylum Support Regulations 2000, SI 2000/704 (as amended)

[3] National Audit Office, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, HC 880 2013-14

[4] National Audit Office, COMPASS contracts for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers, HC 880 2013-14

[5] Asylum Support Regulations 2000, SI 200/704 (as amended), regulation 20

[6] GOV.UK, Asylum support (last updated 11 January 2015)

[7] HL Deb 20 October 1999 c1164

[8] Asylum Support (Amendment) Regulations 2011, SI 2011/907

[9] HC Deb 6 June 2013 119WS

[10] [2014] EWHC 1033 (Admin)

[11] Home Office correspondence to National Asylum Stakeholder Forum, 11 August 2014 (available from Migrants Rights Network website, accessed 30 January 2015)

[12] Asylum Support (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2009, SI 2009/1388 (Explanatory Memorandum, para 7.4)

[13] Home Office correspondence to National Asylum Stakeholder Forum, 11 August 2014 (available from Migrants Rights Network website, accessed 30 January 2015)

[14] See Home Office, Asylum Support Policy Bulletin 75 'Section 55 guidance' v.11

[15] For further details, see Home Office, Asylum Process Guidance 'Processing an asylum application from a child' v.6.0

[16] NRPF Network, Practice Guidance for local authorities: Assessing and Supporting Adults with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), September 2014

[17] ASAP, Factsheet 8 'Local Authority Assistance for Asylum Seekers and Refused Asylum Seekers' , April 2014

[18] Home Office, Asylum Policy Instruction, 'Permission to work', v.6.0

[19] Asylum Support Regulations 2000, SI 2000/704 (as amended), r2, 2A

[20] Section 4 support can also be provided to persons released from immigration detention or on immigration bail (including persons who have not claimed asylum).

[21] See Library standard note SN05792 Asylum: Azure payment cards

[22] The Immigration and Asylum (Provision of Accommodation to Failed Asylum Seekers) Regulations 2005, SI 2005/930, r3

[23] HC Deb 16 September 2010 c1213W; HC Deb 11 December 2013 c222-3W

[24] HL Deb 18 November 2014 cWA95

[25] However, households including dependent children under 18 may receive section 4 support if the children were born after a final decision was made on the asylum claim. In certain circumstances, pregnant refused asylum seekers may also receive section 4 support.

[26] See Library Research Paper 03/88 Asylum and Immigration: The 2003 Bill, section VI

[27] Border and Immigration Agency, Family Asylum Policy The Section 9 Implementation Project, 25 June 2007

[28] NRPF Network, Practice Guidance for local authorities: Assessing and Supporting Adults with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) (updated April 2009)

[29] Asylum Support Appeals (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2003 SI 2003/1735