3 Asylum support |
74. Before 1999, asylum applicants were supported
by mainstream benefits which were set at 90% of the rates that
were available to those who got mainstream benefits. The Immigration
and Asylum Act 1999 created an entirely separate support system
under the auspices of the Home Office and reduced that rate to
70% of income support, which was considered to be sufficient to
meet 'essential living needs' for the anticipated six-month duration
of the asylum claim. This is known as Section 95 support. The
Act also introduced a further, reduced support system for asylum
seekers who had had their claim refused but were unable to return
to their country of origin through reasons that were no fault
of theirs. This is known as Section 4 support.
75. The reasoning for this decision was that
the then Government believed that access to generous, mainstream
benefits was attracting asylum applicants who did not have a genuine
claim. This view
is disputed by the Still Human, Still Here coalition:
Research commissioned by the Home Office has found
that asylum seekers have limited control over where they apply
for asylum and little knowledge of entitlements to benefits in
the UK. This was confirmed by a review of the 19 main recipient
countries for asylum applications in the OECD in 2011 which concluded
that policies which relate to the welfare of asylum seekers (e.g.
support levels, permission to work and access to healthcare) did
not impact on the number of applications made in destination countries.
They pointed out that asylum applications in the
UK rose following the introduction of the new support system in
1999, as they had following an earlier restriction on benefit
claims in 1996, and claimed that countries with more generous
welfare arrangements than the UK, such as the Netherlands, did
not receive more asylum applications.
Section 95 support and the right
76. Until 2008, asylum support rates were linked
to income support. However, since then, the levels have been set
annually each year in accordance with what has been felt to be
The current rates of section 95 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
- Person aged at least 16, but under 18 (except
a member of a qualifying couple): £39.80
- Person aged under 16: £52.96.
An asylum seeker who is a single person over the
age of 18 receives 65% of income support paid to those under 25
and 51% of the levels paid to those who are over 25. The Scottish
Refugee Council stated that the
level of income most widely used as a signifier of
living in poverty is below 60% of male median income. Asylum support
stands at less than 31% of that level. The UKBA arguments about
costs such as utility bills and housing being met and that these
make up the shortfall is a disingenuous one. A 35%-49% shortfall
is not made up by asylum seekers not having to meet these costs.
77. In April, the Government told us that it
was reviewing aspects of support policy, including the weekly
allowances provided to asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers
but by June, the Minister for Immigration had announced
his decision to maintain support at current levels.
In surveys of those on section 95 support, it has been reported
that 50% had experienced hunger as a result of the low levels
of support; 70% were unable to buy essential toiletries; and 94%
were unable to buy clothing.
This relative poverty is compounded by the fact that the vast
majority of asylum applicants have not legally been allowed to
work since 2002.
78. Asylum applicants who have been waiting for
a decision for over 12 months can apply for a Work Permit. However,
the employment opportunities are restricted and include recognised
areas where workers are in 'short supply' and posts are generally
restricted to those requiring a degree level qualification.
By contrast, in Austria, Greece, Portugal, Finland and Sweden
asylum seekers are permitted to work after four months while Italy,
Spain, Netherlands, and Cyprus allow them a work permit after
six months. Denmark has also recently announced that it will also
allow asylum seekers to work after six months.
Many of our witnesses highlighted the benefits of allowing asylum
applicants to access the job market. Maurice Wren of the Refugee
Council told us that allowing asylum seekers to work would reduce
the public expenditure of support and accommodation for them as
well as all those with skills and talents to be of benefit to
the economy. Both he and Tom Hamilton-Shaw of the Red Cross pointed
out that due to the low levels of asylum support, some asylum
applicants would work illegally which was to the detriment of
the Treasury who would not be receiving tax as a result.
Jan Shaw of Amnesty International highlighted that the length
of time it took to receive a final decision on an asylum application
led to the de-skilling of asylum applicants who were highly trained.
79. A third of witnesses to the inquiry told
us that they thought asylum seekers ought to be given the right
to work, a position
which is supported by the Church of England General Synod which
in 2009 passed a motion by 242 votes to 1 in favour of allowing
asylum seekers be given the right to work.
Furthermore, the Immigration Act 1971 (Amendment) Bill, a private
Peer's Bill which was introduced on 10 June, would allow asylum
applicants the right to work after six months if their claim has
not received an initial decision.
The Bill has yet to receive a date for second reading but
we encourage the Government to ensure that adequate time is made
available for the second reading debate. Given that current access
to the job market for asylum seekers is both restrictive and confusing,
we therefore understand why not even the Home Secretary was fully
aware of the conditions when she gave evidence to us. She told
us that she agrees with the current policy which is that access
to the job market "is not available to somebody until they
have been here for 12 months."
Section 4 support
80. Section 4 support is significantly more restricted
than section 95 support, both in terms of the amount of the support
and in the way that it is distributed. It is only available to
refused asylum seekers who are unable to return to their country
of origin through, for instance, health issues or the refusal
of those countries to recognise them as a citizen. Under section
4, a single adult receives £35.39 per week, loaded on to
a pre-paid 'Azure' card which can only be used in designated shops.
This 'cashless' system is justified by the Government on the basis
that it meets essential living needs and will only need to be
provided for a short time.
In fact, over half of section 4 support recipients have been receiving
it for more than two years.
The balance of the Azure card has to be used within the
week, with only £5 being carried over to the following week,
meaning that it is impossible to save for items such as clothes
and shoes. The card can also only be used to purchase essential
items and, although according to Home Office guidance the only
restricted items are fuel and gift cards, witnesses to the inquiry
reported that supermarket staff had refused to allow cardholders
to purchase socks, toiletries, orange juice, children's clothing
and a lavatory brush.
This is further compounded by reports of technical faults
with the cards which mean that the cardholder is unable to make
By restricting their access to cash, section 4 recipients are
unable to for instance, pay for shoe repair, travel via public
transport, or purchase food in markets. Refugee Action found that
82% of section 4 recipients were unable to buy fresh fruit and
vegetables and more than 90% regularly missed a meal.
81. Mike Kaye of the Still Human, Still Here
Coalition highlighted the extra cost of running section 4 support.
Under section 4 you have to give up accommodation
with friends and family and go into Government-paid accommodation,
so you are actually getting the taxpayer to pay for accommodation
that is not necessary. You are running a parallel support system
that costs £350,000 just to run for less than 3,000 people.
You have to administer that system, which is incredibly complex.
It is dozens of pages of an application that have to be faxed
to the Home Office and a case owner has to go through that. There
is lots of additional cost with section 4 that totals, in my calculation,
between £2 million and £4 million that will be saved
by abolishing section 4 and retaining those people under section
As previously mentioned, the Asylum Support Appeals
Project also noted the high number of number of allowed appeals
against decisions not to grant section 4 support. Their research
found that 82% of appeals were allowed which highlighted the unnecessary
costs of the poor decision making regarding the allocation of
section 4 support.
Given that resources are constrained across Government at this
time, the allocation of funding and staff to running a parallel
support system seems excessive.
82. We are not convinced that a separate support
system for failed asylum seekers, whom the Government recognise
as being unable to return to their country of origin, is necessary.
The increasing period of time which asylum seekers have to wait
for an initial decision suggests that staff resources could be
better used by being allocated to asylum applications. Section
4 is not the solution for people who have been refused but cannot
be returned and we call on the Government to find a better way
83. We note that the Independent Chief Inspector
is due to undertake an inspection of asylum support and would
ask him to include the matter of allowed appeals as part of his
inspection. Whilst this system is ongoing, we are also concerned
by the levels of allowed appeals against decisions not to grant
asylum support and will in future require the UK Visas and Immigration
Section to provide us with details with the number of allowed
appeals against decisions made regarding asylum support. We recommend
that his recommendations are implemented fully as a matter of
priority as this is obviously an area where improvement is required.
84. People in all stages of the asylum system
- those awaiting a decision if
they are unable to access support;
- those whose appeal rights are currently exhausted
but fail to return to their country of origin, who lose all support
and are evicted from accommodation 21 days after a final refusal;
- those who have been granted leave to remain and
therefore have 28 days to leave accommodation, but are unable
to access mainstream support because National Insurance numbers,
benefits and housing applications are not processed within this
It is estimated that many destitute refused asylum
seekers come from countries where there is ongoing conflict or
political instability. Many will come from Somalia, Iraq, Iran,
Eritrea, Malawi, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo,
all of which are countries where it is difficult to facilitate
a return. This
can be because governments are unco-operative, it is not possible
to obtain travel documents, there may be practical difficulties
such as trying to return people to countries where airports are
not in operation, or of course individuals who simply refuse to
85. Destitute asylum seekers survive through
the support of social networks, voluntary sector organisations,
and churches and other faith-based organisations. Many will stay
with friends though there is evidence of destitute asylum seekers
providing services in the form of childcare, cooking, housework,
gardening and in some cases even sex in exchange for meals, small
amounts of cash, shelter, or other daily necessities.
Some will visit voluntary sector organisations such as the
British Red Cross, who told the Committee that they assisted around
6,000 destitute clients a year. They noted that over half of these
clients were destitute due to administrative failings or delays
within the asylum system.
A 2011 report by Oxfam noted that of all institutions cited
by refused asylum seekers, churches appeared to have done most
to respond to their needs. The support provided by churches included
not only cash and food, but also English language classes, clothes
and social events.
86. From anecdotal evidence presented by the
London Refugee Women's Forum and Women Asylum Seekers Together
London it is clear that some women engage in commercial or transactional
sex work in order to avoid homelessness. There were also examples
of both men and women entering into relationships merely to ensure
that they had somewhere to stay.
Most worrying were the accounts of women remaining in abusive
relationships as it was seen as preferable to sleeping on the
streets. Research by the London Refugee Women's Forum and Women
Asylum Seekers Together London found that 13% of destitute female
asylum seekers had experienced sexual violence.
87. The destitution of those with leave to remain
is especially concerning. Being recognised as a refugee and therefore
in need of protection ought to be a time of relief yet many witnesses
highlighted that in actual fact it took six to eight weeks (rather
than the 28 days allowed by the Home Office) for mainstream benefits
to be processed. In some cases, the period where the refugee was
unable to access these benefits was as long as four months.
The Home Office accepted that this was an issue, telling us that
Since December 2012, we have been working closely
with DWP on reviewing a small sample of cases to identify process
improvements to be implemented individually and between both Departments
to resolve issues, taking account of relevant evidence provided
by key external partners. We continue to work on this, in order
to improve the transition from asylum benefits for recognised
refugees, with the support of targeted external partners.
One witness noted that for many refugees there was
a difficulty in navigating the telephone and internet-based systems
which are associated with these benefits because of their lack
of fluency in English.
The reduction in availability of English language classes
for asylum seekers was a cause for concern for a number of witnesses
who felt it limited their ability to engage with both members
of the local community and professionals.
Given that a lack of fluency in English will hamper their chances
of being able to find work and come off benefits, we are concerned
that English language classes are being provided by a small number
of volunteers who cannot possibly fulfil the need of the of all
of those within the asylum system.
88. It is unacceptable that someone who is recognised
as refugee should be reduced to a state of destitution due to
the inefficiency of governmental bureaucracy. We recommend that
asylum support should not be discontinued until the Department
for Work and Pensions has confirmed that the recipient is receiving
89. We recommend that the Government reinstate
the previous level of availability of English language classes
for those who have been granted asylum by the state to encourage
them to be able to contribute more to Britain and the UK economy.
Accommodation and support provided
as part of the COMPASS contract
90. The COMPASS contract (Commercial and Operational
Managers Procuring Asylum Support Services) provides accommodation,
associated services and transportation to eligible destitute asylum
applicants and their families in the UK. The six contracts under
COMPASS replaced over 30 UKBA contracts for accommodation and
transport previously called 'Target' and 'Transport Plus.' Contracts
were awarded exclusively to large companies, with SERCO, G4S and
Clearel each gaining two contracts (four in England plus one each
in Wales and Scotland/Northern Ireland).
91. At the transfer of the contract last year,
G4S were unable to house some asylum applicants. In November 2012
The Independent newspaper reported that hundreds of asylum-seekers
in Yorkshire were left in council housing when G4S failed to meet
a deadline to re-house them in private sector accommodation.
Many asylum applicants complained that the houses they were moved
in to were inadequate, which we discuss further below. Despite
this delay in moving tenants at the start of the contract, it
is understood that the UKBA did not institute any financial penalties
against G4S and G4S, although recognising that their subcontracting
housing companies were in breach of contractual guidelines (particularly
in the pre-inspection of contracted properties prior to allocation),
the company has not instituted financial or other penalties
on their subcontractors.
92. The reports that we have received on the
quality of the accommodation are extremely worrying. Concerns
were raised by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Housing and
Migration Network and the Local Government Association about the
standards of property provided to asylum applicants.
Problems cited in evidence include pest infestations, lack
of heating or hot water, windows and doors that could not be locked,
lack of basic amenities including a cooker, a shower, a
washing machine and a sink and a general lack of cleanliness.
Furthermore, many of those who submitted evidence cited
difficulties in contacting housing providers and the slow resolution
of problems. G4S
told the Committee that they recognised there had been problems.
We transferred nearly 3,000 properties across the
Midlands, East of England, North-East Yorkshire and Humberside
from the previous contract and most of the issuesso of
the property complaints we have had, the vast majority, over 65%
of thoserelate to the properties that were transferred
over. We have a programme of working through those, investing
in them, so I do recognise there are issues with property but
we have a programme to work through those.
It was also acknowledged that the COMPASS contract
specified a response time where there were issues with a property.
In order to ensure that standards were maintained both G4S
and the Home Office carry out random inspections of properties.
93. We were very concerned by the description
of the sub-standard level of housing provided to asylum applicants.
Furthermore, the length of time that witnesses report it taking
to get problems resolved is unacceptable. We recommend that the
Home Office publish the results of its random inspections of properties
so that the public may monitor the effectiveness of the housing
providersSERCO, G4S and Clearelreceiving hundreds
of millions of pounds in public money. The companies awarded the
COMPASS contract must prove that they are able to deliver a satisfactory
level of service.
94. Sarah Teather MP, chair of an informal Parliamentary
inquiry into asylum support for children and young people, drew
our attention to the issue of privacy. She has also raised it
on the floor of the House, telling MPs that
As chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Asylum
Support for Children and Young People I heard numerous examples
of individuals working on behalf of housing providers entering
properties unannounced having provided no notice, frightening
parents and their young children.
When we raised this with both G4S and Serco, they
denied that it was a common occurrence although they admitted
that they allowed their representatives to enter properties if
no one was home as they had duties to perform under the COMPASS
contract. Both stressed that entry without admittance by the resident
was a last resort.
Both Serco and G4S emphasised that there were complaint
procedures in place. G4S told us that instructions on making a
complaint were included within induction packs produced in a wide
range of languages.
Unfortunately, at least two organisations who submitted
evidence to the inquiry complained that these packs were either
inadequate or not provided by sub-contractors to residents.
95. We are unimpressed by the assurances given
to us by G4S and Serco that their representatives do not routinely
enter properties without first knocking. Entering a room or a
house where someone is resident without knocking is rude and intimidating
and such behaviour is not appropriate. All the COMPASS contractors
must provide their staff with unambiguous guidance on the very
limited circumstances in which it will be appropriate for them
to let themselves into somebody else's home unbidden. We also
recommend that when the COMPASS contract is renewed that provisions
be introduced to require that, except in emergencies, the housing
provider leave a calling card the first time that they need entry
with the date of another appointment on it. Then, and only then,
should it be appropriate for a housing provider to gain entry
without admittance by the residents.
96. Evidence submitted to this inquiry highlighted
a lack of support following an asylum decision on the part of
housing providers. The South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action
Group provided a case study showing the stress that can result
from a grant of leave to remain, something that ought to be a
relief for asylum seekers.
On 8 August a heavily pregnant asylum seeker resident
in Target Housing Association accommodation in Rotherham was granted
leave to remain in the UK. As a refugee the woman had to leave
the property, her landlords, subcontractors of G4S, would not
be paid by the UK Border Agency if she lingered there. Her eviction
notice was for the same day as the local hospital had insisted
that she should go and have the birth induced. Target management
made her pack, and suggested that she find her own way with her
bags, first to emergency homeless accommodation, and then on to
the hospital, pointing out that her destinations were on bus routes.
It was only the intervention of a sympathetic member of the Target
staff who insisted on using her own car to get the woman to housing
and the hospital which made the journeys possible.
The Manchester Refugee Support Network noted that
before Serco took over the accommodation contract people living
in privately run accommodation had experiences of landlords being
flexible and letting people stay on after they had been made destitute
or given positive status. The note that this practice has not
continued under Serco because housing is so heavily booked that
there is no flexibility. The network cites the case of one refugee
who told them that when he had received a positive decision, he
had had a five week gap without access to funds. However, because
he had a positive relationship with his landlord, he was not evicted
and when he was able to access mainstream benefits, he paid his
landlord back in full.
This lack of pastoral care for new refugees is despite the
fact the UKBA had stated that part of the role of the COMPASS
contract providers would "have to liaise with local authorities
and housing providers about move-on accommodation for those receiving
97. We note that the National Audit Office is
currently carrying out an investigation in to the COMPASS contracts.
As part of their written evidence the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
and the Housing and Migration Network have recommended that the
Government "undertake an urgent, published review of the
performance of the current contractors in relation to the contract
specifications, especially in accommodation standards and support
for transition after asylum applications have been decided."
The NAO's investigation has the following terms of reference:
- The transition to the six new
COMPASS contracts and the first six months of operation;
- The performance of all three suppliers and their
subcontractors, including their compliance with the terms of the
- Quality of provision and arrangements for assuring
accommodation meets the standards contractors are required to
- The experience of end users (asylum seekers)
during the transition period and the first six months of operation.
We expect that such an investigation will address
all of the points of concern regarding the COMPASS contracts raised
within this report. The results of the investigation are scheduled
to be published in late 2013.
98. We recommend that the National Audit
Office's inspection in to the COMPASS contracts address the issues
raised with us regarding accommodation standards and support for
transition following asylum decisions. Following the publication
of the results of this investigation we will revisit this matter
with both the Home Office and the contract providers. We also
take this opportunity to recommend that the Government ensure
that any irregularities unearthed during that investigation be
110 The Poverty Barrier: The Right to Rehabilitation
for Survivors of Torture in the UK, Freedom From Torture,
July 2013, p25 Back
Ev 74, para 6.1 Back
HL Deb, 23 May 2012, Column 785 Back
Ev w186, para 6.6 [Manchester Refugee Support Network] Back
Ev w318, para 5.2 Back
Ev 48, para 33 Back
The Poverty Barrier: The Right to Rehabilitation for Survivors
of Torture in the UK, Freedom From Torture, July 2013, p26 Back
Ev 71, para 1.6 [Still Human Still Here coalition] Back
Ev w326, para 5.7 [Liverpool Asylum and Refugee Association] Back
Ev 72, para 3.4 [Still Human Still Here coalition] Back
Supported by Ev w1 [Oldham Unity Destitution Food Project]; Ev
w6 [Mrs Janet King]; Ev w37 [Wakefield District City of Sanctuary];
Ev 64 [Women for Refugee Women, the London Refugee Women's Forum
and Women Asylum Seekers Together London]; Ev 70 [Still Human
Still Here coalition]; Ev w45 [Quaker Peace & Social Witness
and Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network]; Ev w50 [National AIDS
Trust]; Ev w51 [St Augustine's Centre]; Ev w55 [Bristol City Council];
Ev w61 [Refugee Action]; Ev w77 [Migrant and Refugee Communities
Forum]; Ev w82 [Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern]; Ev w101 [Bristol
Refugee Rights]; Ev w118 [Destitute Asylum Seekers Huddersfield];
Ev w123 [Leeds Asylum Seekers' Support Network]; Ev w129 [Mission
and Public Affairs Council of the Archbishops' Council of the
Church of England]; Ev w141 [Refugee Survival Trust]; Ev w144
[ASSIST Sheffield]; Ev 114 [Survivors Speak Out]; Ev w193 [No
Recourse to Public Funds Network]; Ev 125 [British Red Cross];
Ev w242 [Barnado's]; Ev w246 [Positive Action In Housing]; Ev
w249 [Oxfam Cymru]; Ev w274 [Glasgow North West Framework for
Dialogue Group]; Ev w301 [Dover Detainee Visitor Group's Ex-Detainee
Project]; Ev w322 [West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Network]; Ev
w323 [Liverpool Asylum and Refugee Association] Back
Ev w129, para 2 [Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Archbishops'
Council of the Church of England] Back
HL Bill 31, 2013-14 Back
The Poverty Barrier, p25 Back
Ev w341, para 25 [The Children's Society] Back
Ev w16, para 7.9 [Leicester City of Sanctuary] & Ev w62, para
10 [Refugee Action] Back
Ev w54, para 3.4.8 [St Augustine's Centre] Back
Ev w62, para 8 Back
Ev w202, para 5 Back
Ev w104, para 4.1 [Bristol Refugee Rights] Back
Ev w43 [Dorothy Ismail, Arthur Carr and Jane Nikolorakis]; Coping
with destitution, Oxfam GB, February 2011, p17 Back
Coping with destitution, Oxfam GB, February 2011, p42 Back
Ev 127, para 2.4 Back
Coping with destitution, Oxfam GB, February 2011, p32 Back
Coping with destitution, Oxfam GB, February 2011, pp39-41 Back
Ev 68, para 20 Back
Ev 98, para 4.7 [Freedom from Torture] Back
Ev 48, para 35 Back
Ev w45 para 12 [Dorothy Ismail, Arthur Carr and Jane Nikolorakis] Back
Ev w43 [Dorothy Ismail, Arthur Carr and Jane Nikolorakis]; Ev
w51 [St Augustine's Centre]; Ev w101 [Bristol Refugee Rights] Back
The Independent Asylum-seekers left in housing limbo after G4S
fails to deliver - again; Councils forced to cover lucrative contract
as families complain about 'dirty' conditions, November 20, 2012,
Pg. 4 Back
Ev w209, para 6.7 [Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Housing
and Migration Network]; Ev w308 [Local Government Association
et al] Back
Ev 103, para 7.14 [Freedom from Torture]; Ev w245, para 4.2 [Barnado's] Back
Ev w209, para 6.7 [Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Housing
and Migration Network]; Ev w303, para 3.6 [Dover Detainee Visitor
Group's Ex-Detainee Project] Back
Ev w86 [Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group]; Ev 92 [Freedom
from Torture]; Ev w301 [Dover Detainee Visitor Group's Ex-Detainee
G4S briefing to the Committee. Back
Ev w234, para 3.5 Back
Qq234; 239 Back
Ev w52, para 3.1.1 [St Augustine's Centre]; Ev w166, para 7 [Thrive
and DASUK] Back
Ev w187, para 7.4 Back
Ev w208, para 6.5 [Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Housing
and Migration Network] Back
Ev w206, para 22.214.171.124 Back