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A person is destitute if they do not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it, or if they have adequate accommodation or the means of obtaining it but cannot meet their other essential living needs.

As asylum support is a reserved matter, the support arrangements detailed in this briefing apply to asylum seekers across the UK.

Legal basis for asylum support

The asylum support system is based on provisions in Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (‘the 1999 Act’).

Various sections of the 1999 Act give powers to provide accommodation and subsistence support at different stages of the asylum process. This briefing focuses on support under sections 95 and 98 of the Act.

Section 95 support is provided to people waiting for a decision on their asylum claim or appeal. It is mainly provided as accommodation and money to cover specified essential living needs (often referred to as subsistence support). Section 98 support is provided while a person’s eligibility for section 95 asylum support is being considered. It is usually provided as full-board accommodation.

Subsistence support

The weekly section 95 support rate is £49.18 per person for people living in self-catered accommodation or receiving subsistence-only support. People in full-board accommodation receive £8.86 a week. Some additional payments are available to certain cohorts, including pregnant women and children under four.

Subsistence support is intended to cover destitute asylum seekers’ essential living needs. The weekly amount is credited to a pre-paid debit card which asylum seekers can use to pay for goods or withdraw cash.

Other entitlements

Asylum seekers also have free access to the NHS and may be eligible for free prescriptions, dental care, eyesight tests and vouchers for glasses. Children are eligible for 15 hours free early years childcare (for children aged between two and five). They have the same entitlement to state education as other children of compulsory school age and may be eligible for free school meals. Asylum seekers may be eligible for other discretionary schemes run by local authorities or other providers, such as concessionary travel on public transport.

Accommodation support

Private sector providers contracted by the Home Office are responsible for finding accommodation for homeless asylum seekers. Accommodation is allocated on a no-choice basis in regions across the UK under the longstanding dispersal policy.

Asylum seekers should move between ‘initial’ and ‘dispersal’ accommodation as their case progresses. Initial accommodation is typically in full-board hostel-style residences. Dispersal accommodation is usually furnished houses, flats or rooms in houses in multiple occupation.

In recent years the use of other forms of accommodation has increased, partly due to pressures on availability and also because of policy choices made by successive recent governments. The Home Office is trying to stop using hotels as contingency accommodation. It is establishing some large-scale accommodation sites including on vessels and government-owned land.

Conditions of support and grounds to withdraw it

Asylum seekers are expected to adhere to various conditions attached to the provision of asylum support. Support may be suspended or withdrawn if a person breaches the relevant conditions.

Certain decisions to refuse or withdraw asylum support have a right of appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal (Asylum Support). These include decisions to refuse section 95 support and decisions to withdraw support before the asylum claim has been fully determined.

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