‘SHAMING DESTITUTION’ – CAB slams treatment of asylum seekers

Demonstration against Labour’s attack on asylum rights in April last year
Demonstration against Labour’s attack on asylum rights in April last year

In a report titled ‘Shaming Destitution’, the Citizens Advice Bureaux condemn the Blair government’s treatment of refugees to whom it refuses asylum and who are forced to claim assistance under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

In summary, the charity says: ‘Since 2003 there has been a 15-fold increase in the number of failed asylum seekers in receipt of so-called Section 4 support, on the basis that they are temporarily unable to leave the UK for reasons beyond their control.

‘The Home Office’s National Asylum Support Service (NASS) failed to respond adequately to this increase and, during 2005, delay and error in the processing of applications and the delivery of support became commonplace.

‘This resulted in numerous cases of avoidable and shaming destitution.

‘NASS has now begun to address this administrative failure. However, with up to 250,000 failed asylum seekers awaiting removal from the UK – a great many of whom could meet one or more of the Section 4 qualifying criteria – the potential for further administrative chaos remains very real.

‘Furthermore, the Section 4 support regime has evolved into one very different to that conceived by ministers in 2000.

‘Intended as a short-term and discretionary support system for a very small number of “hard” cases, it is now a large-scale and largely long-term regime with a statutory basis.

‘This report sets out evidence of the poor service delivery by NASS in 2005, as well as other problems with the cash-less Section 4 regime and the associated negative impact on other public services, including the NHS.

‘It argues that the evolution of the regime since 2000 now demands appropriate reform of associated policy and practice.

‘And it recommends how such reform can be incorporated into the Home Office’s New Asylum Model – the most radical redesign of its asylum processes in more than two decades.’

The CAB focus on the case of failed asylum seeker Daniel from Kenya.

CAB advisers visited Daniel in February 2006.

The charity says he was living in dangerously dilapidated conditions, in a property owned by ‘an unresponsive “landlord” – a private company M&Q – contracted by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) to provide him and other qualifying failed asylum seekers with accommodation and cash-less subsistence support’.

It continues: ‘At the time Citizens Advice visited Daniel, around the country some 5,000 failed asylum seekers were living on NASS Section 4 support – so called because it is provided under powers given to the Home Office in section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

‘Regular NASS support for asylum seekers is provided under Section 95 of the Act.

‘Each year, some two-thirds of all the asylum claims made to the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) are finally refused (i.e. including any appeal to the independent Asylum and Immigration Tribunal).

‘Whilst the asylum claim (and any appeal) is under consideration, those applicants (and any dependants) who are unable to support themselves can obtain accommodation and cash subsistence support from NASS.

‘In February 2006, NASS was so supporting some 50,000 asylum seekers and dependants.

‘Where the asylum claim is refused and any appeal dismissed, for single adults and childless couples such NASS support ceases 21 days after the final refusal, and during this “grace period” they are expected to leave the United Kingdom.

‘However, some failed asylum seekers are, for reasons beyond their control, unable to leave the United Kingdom before the expiry of this 21-day grace period.

‘Some are in the late stages of pregnancy, or have very recently given birth. Some are unfit to travel for other medical reasons.

‘Many – having lived on low level NASS subsistence support for months or years – simply do not have the financial means to purchase return travel to their own country, and so must apply for and await assisted return.

‘When establishing the NASS-administered asylum support system in 2000, the government recognised that, for such reasons, some failed asylum seekers are temporarily unable to leave the UK – or, at least, cannot reasonably be expected to do so.

‘Regulations made under Section 4 of the 1999 Act, as amended by both the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, provide the Home Office with powers to support otherwise destitute failed asylum seeker who satisfies one or more of five conditions. . .

‘Daniel’s original (Section 95) NASS support had ceased on 7 September, following the final refusal of his asylum claim in mid-August, but on 30 August his solicitor had made a fresh asylum claim and this was still under consideration by the Home Office IND.

‘Given Daniel’s age and frailty, and in accordance with a priority system operated by the NASS Section 4 team, the CAB adviser clearly marked Daniel’s Section 4 application as a “priority A” case, which NASS had previously indicated it aimed to process “within 48 hours” (rather than the usual five working days).

‘Over the next few weeks, the CAB telephoned the NASS Section 4 team at frequent intervals to chase up Daniel’s application, but on each occasion was advised that the application was still under consideration. On 10 October, when calling to chase the application, the CAB was told that NASS had “no record” of Daniel’s Section 4 application.

‘The CAB faxed a copy of the original application. On 30 November, after further chase up calls had produced no result, and with Daniel homeless, destitute and living off weekly Salvation Army food parcels, the CAB submitted a formal complaint to the Home Office IND.

‘On 6 December, NASS refused Daniel’s application for Section 4 support, on the grounds that the further representations submitted by his solicitor on 30 August “face a very limited chance of success”.

‘On 9 December, the CAB assisted Daniel to make a (paper) appeal against this refusal to the Asylum Support Adjudicators (ASA).

‘And on 20 December, the ASA allowed the appeal, on the basis that the further representations submitted by Daniel’s solicitor on 30 August “amount to fresh representations in the appellant’s asylum claim and contain evidence in support of the claim”, and that “the appellant is entitled to Section 4 support whilst the IND caseworkers consider the merits of these representations”.

‘The ASA concluded that the refusal of Daniel’s application on 6 December was contrary to NASS’s own policy in relation to the granting of Section 4 support following the making of a fresh asylum claim.

‘Setting out its reasons for allowing Daniel’s appeal, the ASA further noted that, in considering his appeal, it had directed NASS to “provide evidence from IND setting out whether the (appellant’s) fresh representations have been received and whether they remain under consideration”, but that “no response has been received (from NASS)”.

‘On 9 January 2006, nearly four months after making his application for section 4 support, and three weeks after his appeal against NASS’s refusal of that application had been allowed by the ASA, Daniel finally moved into the shared house in which Citizens Advice visited him in February. At the same time, he began to receive £35 per week of Luncheon Vouchers as Section 4 support.

‘Almost by definition, applicants for section 4 support are homeless and destitute, and therefore in urgent need of both accommodation and subsistence support.

‘Throughout 2005, CAB advisers reported dealing with pregnant, elderly, seriously ill and otherwise especially vulnerable individuals who were surviving only due to donations and food parcels from the Salvation Army, local church groups and other charities, and/or due to the generosity of NASS-supported and other friends in sharing food, accommodation and other essentials.

‘The impact of such administrative inefficiency and poor decision-making on the part of NASS is not only felt by such individuals, however.

‘For, as this report seeks to show, there is also an impact on other public services, including the National Health Service and, most especially, the Asylum Support Adjudicators.

‘In contrast to regular (Section 95) NASS support, which supported asylum seekers collect from local Post Offices, Section 4 subsistence support is dispensed to a supported failed asylum seeker by his or her NASS-contracted accommodation provider.

‘Citizens Advice has received reports of section 4-supported individuals having to e.g. walk to a local car park to be given vouchers from the boot of a car. . .’