Refugees win judicial review of benefit rules

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

The Government suffered an embarrassing setback yesterday when a judge allowed a welfare group to mount a legal challenge of the withdrawal of welfare benefits for most asylum seekers.

Mr Justice Brooke agreed to allow the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants to apply for a judicial review in the High Court of new regulations introduced by Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security.

The judge turned down a request by the JCWI to halt the new regulations, which came into force yesterday.

Under the rules benefits will be withdrawn from 70 per cent of asylum seekers, saving pounds 200m a year. Immigrants who fail to make an application for asylum immediately on arrival in Britain are no longer entitled to income support or housing benefit. Those whose applications are rejected are also banned from claiming benefits while they launch appeals.

The judge yesterday ruled that the JCWI had "an arguable case" that asylum seekers were entitled to be treated as genuine refugees, and therefore entitled to benefits, unless it was proved their claims were bogus.

A court will decide this week whether the Government should be prevented from enforcing the regulations pending the outcome of the review application.

The Government argues the onus is on refugees to establish that they have a genuine claim.

Nicholas Blake QC, for the JCWI, described the regulations as "unlawful and improper" and the result of "a heresy of the gravest variety" when it came to immigration law and the rights of asylum seekers.

Claude Moraes, director of JCWI, said he was "clearly delighted" with the judge's decision.

A Department of Social Security spokesman said: "We welcome a review that would clarify the legality of our new rules and dispose of the matter."