Thousands of refugees allowed to stay in Britain will be be destitute this Christmas, says Labour

The opposition called for a shake-up to reduce delays in the time it takes asylum seekers to move on to mainstream benefits

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Thousands of refugees allowed to remain in Britain will be destitute this Christmas because of the Government's approach, according to Labour.

The opposition called for a shake-up to reduce delays in the time it takes asylum seekers to move from emergency state payments on to more generous mainstream benefits. This is supposed to happen within a 28-day grace period in which they receive asylum payments, but  can take up to 85 days. They are also entitled to work but cannot do so when they are stuck between the two systems.

In 2013, there were 23,507 asylum applications in the UK. Of the 17,647 initial decisions, 37 per cent (6,542) were granted some sort of leave to remain. In the same year, the Red Cross supported 10,509 refugees and asylum seekers – 60 per cent of whom (6,301) were destitute at some point during those 12 months.

The previous Labour Government  recognised the ordeal  new refugees face during the 28-day grace period. A Refugee Integration and Employment Service (RIES) provided intensive support  to help new refugees move  into mainstream society. The Government funded voluntary and local authority agencies to provide a package of support. But all funding for RIES was cut by the Coalition Government in 2011.

Helen Goodman, the shadow Welfare Reform Minister, said: “This Christmas thousands of refugees are destitute because of the Government’s failure to deliver essential financial support through the benefit system. According to the Red Cross it can take nearly three months for refugees to receive benefits and the system is an ‘ordeal’. That’s completely unacceptable."

She added: "It’s time for ministers to urgently get a grip of the Department for Work and Pension (DWP) delays. Benefits should not be available for people who are in the UK illegally. But refugees who are in Britain legitimately must receive benefits on time rather than being left destitute over Christmas.”

Ms Goodman claimed: "Under David Cameron the cost of the DWP’s failure is enormous with rising housing benefit spending and wasteful projects costing taxpayers billions, while benefit delays and policies like the bedroom tax are causing hardship to thousands of people. It’s more examples of Tory welfare waste.”

The Red Cross acknowledged that the DWP did show flexibility when refugees are asked to provide documents proving their identity.

The charity wants the DWP to ensure Jobcentre Plus staff are fully trained on the most up-to-date DWP policies on refugees after criticism that office practice varied widely.