This briefing provides an overview of asylum support entitlements and some currently topical issues.
Section 95 support whilst waiting for an asylum decision
The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 is the basis for the asylum support system. Section 95 of the Act concerns support for people with an outstanding asylum claim. Section 95 support is usually in the form of furnished accommodation and money to cover “essential living needs”. Weekly payments (£39.63 per person) are credited to a pre-paid Visa debit card (the ‘ASPEN’ card).
Accommodation is offered on a no-choice basis. It has traditionally been located outside of London and the south-east of England, under the longstanding dispersal policy.
Three private sector companies are currently responsible for providing accommodation to asylum seekers. Their 10-year Home Office contracts began in September 2019 and have an approximate total value of £4 billion. The companies have their own networks of sub-contractors.
Support options if asylum is refused
Section 95 support ends 21 days after the final refusal decision. In general, refused asylum seekers are not eligible for further support, unless:
- the household includes children under 18. For these cases, section 95 support usually continues until departure from the UK; or
- the Home Office accepts that there is a temporary obstacle beyond the person’s control preventing departure from the UK. These cases can obtain a more limited type of support, known as section 4 support. Section 4 support usually gives accommodation and £39.60 per week to cover food, clothes and toiletries (not in cash).
Eligibilities if asylum is granted
A person granted asylum becomes eligible to work in the UK without restrictions. They also have access to ‘public funds’ and can claim welfare benefits on the same basis as British citizens.
Topical issues: Covid-19; extending dispersal areas, and the New Plan for Immigration
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the asylum support system, especially on the availability of asylum accommodation. Significant changes to usual policies and operational practices include
- accommodation providers receiving Ministerial authorisation to procure asylum accommodation outside of the usual dispersal areas agreed by local authorities; and
- an expansion of the use of contingency accommodation such as hotels, and emerging new forms of asylum accommodation such as in former military barracks, in response to pressures on the availability of asylum accommodation.
Securing local authority participation across the UK
Participating local authorities have been raising frustrations with the dispersal policy and asylum accommodation arrangements for many years. Their concerns include their lack of influence over the accommodation contracts and decisions taken affecting their areas, unfunded cost burdens that arise from participation in dispersal and the nature of the asylum support system, and the inequitable distribution of asylum seekers and local authority participation across the UK.
In recent years the Home Office has intensified its engagement with local authorities on these issues. A change plan agreed by the Home Office/Local Government Chief Executive Group in July 2019 aims that, by 2029, the proportion of supported asylum seekers accommodated in each government region will reflect each region’s share of the UK population. The NAO has noted that this could have significant cost implications.
New Plan for Immigration
There is some uncertainty over the Government’s longer-term plans for the asylum support system. The New Plan for Immigration policy statement, open to public consultation until 6 May, proposes significant reforms to the asylum process. Ideas include a new reception centre model to accommodate people whilst they are being considered for asylum or removal from the UK; the possibility of off-shore processing of asylum claims, and making use of powers in existing legislation to refuse support to refused asylum seekers and refused family cases.