Skip to main content

Destitution Among Asylum Seekers

Volume 506: debated on Tuesday 2 March 2010

The Petition of Members of Churches Together in Roundhay,

Declares that we are deeply concerned about the high levels of destitution among asylum seekers, especially refused asylum seekers, and in particular that many people have been left in this dire situation for prolonged periods.

Research in Leeds in 2009, indicates that since the Report in 2007, the situation has deteriorated. It demonstrates that destitution happens at all stages of the asylum process, administrative delays worsen destitution, destitution is serious and prolonged, the number of people being made newly destitute is increasing even with the ‘New Asylum Model’—it is not just a ‘legacy’ problem and entitlement to apply for support does not mean entitlement to receive support. Destitute people may be single or families with children; they are being forced into street homelessness and they have worsening health and mental health problems.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons to ensure its legislation is designed and implemented so as to end the destitution of asylum seekers at all stages of the asylum process. Furthermore that asylum seekers have the right to work at all stages of the asylum process so they can contribute to the United Kingdom and provide for themselves.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Fabian Hamilton, Official Report, 3 February 2010; Vol. 411, c. 505.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for the Home Department:

The UK’s asylum support policy is properly balanced and sufficient to meet essential living needs. No person who has sought our protection need be destitute while waiting for an application to be decided.

We have transformed the asylum system by streamlining the process and introducing end-to-end case management by a single case owner. The UK Border Agency provides support to asylum seekers from the time they arrive in the UK until their claim is finally determined if they would otherwise be destitute. As part of this process we have systems in place to measure the eligibility of the asylum seeker’s rights to access support at all stages of the asylum process. This includes an assessment of destitution and a consideration of their rights under the European convention of human rights.

Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are entitled to accommodation or subsistence or both until their claim is fully determined. Extra money is provided to those who are pregnant or have children under the age of three.

If the asylum seeker’s application is successful they will have full access to public funds on a no less favourable basis than UK citizens. However, when it has been determined that an asylum seeker does not need international protection it is the Government’s policy to discontinue providing support. The Government do not consider that it is right to continue to fund those who choose to remain here when they have no grounds to stay and it is open to them to return to a home country that has been found safe for them to live in.

There are sufficient safeguards for a number of categories of vulnerable failed asylum seekers including families with dependent children under the age of 18 years who continue receiving support until they leave the UK; children and vulnerable adults qualifying for local authority care provision, and those who are temporarily prevented from leaving the UK, who are provided with accommodation and non–cash subsistence. In addition, there is provision to support failed asylum seekers for a time-limited period while they make arrangements to leave the UK.

All asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers who apply for support, but are refused, are entitled to appeal this decision to the independent Tribunal. The Government do not propose to alter this position.

With regard to the termination of support; failed asylum seekers in receipt of section 4 support will continue to be supported until the barrier to leaving the UK, which entitles them to section 4 support, is removed or resolved, providing there is no change in their circumstances which would affect their eligibility. All cases will be regularly reviewed to determine if they remain eligible for section 4 support. The asylum support consultation proposes to remove the right of appeal against the cessation of support that is provided in order to allow individuals to make arrangements to return home. This support is provided on an expressly time-limited basis. We have not proposed to remove the right of appeal when support is terminated in any other circumstances.

The Government are committed to partnership working to reduce destitution and homelessness in the migrant community. The UK Border Agency continues to support the No Recourse to Public Funds Network (NRPF) based at Islington. The network is developing a national operating structure and IT system to enable local authorities to prevent fraud and share good practice when meeting the needs of NRPF migrants receiving local authority support. This network is also being designed to share critical data with the UK Border Agency enabling far more effective joint working with local authorities; the aim to resolve these claimants circumstances locally, at source.

In addition, the UK Border Agency is working with the network to more effectively tailor the assisted voluntary returns (AVR) scheme to meet the needs of local authority clients.

The Government welcome the enormous contribution that the skills and knowledge of genuine refugees make to our society and economy, but permitting asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers to work is not in line with Government policy. It is important to maintain the distinction between economic migration and asylum. Giving asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers permission to work would be likely to encourage asylum applications from those without a well-founded fear of persecution, hence slowing down the processing of applications made by genuine refugees and undermining the integrity of the managed migration system. The only exception is asylum seekers who have been waiting 12 months for a decision where this delay cannot be attributed to them. Allowing asylum seekers to work in these circumstances is in accordance with the EC directive on the reception of asylum seekers.

It is important that those who apply for asylum in the UK have their applications processed as quickly as possible. In 2008 the UK Border Agency began meeting its target to conclude 60 per cent. of new asylum claims within six months and are working to meet even more challenging targets. Those who are recognised as refugees will therefore increasingly be able to work here legally much sooner than in the past, enabling them to make a contribution to the UK.