More than nine in 10 homeless and destitute asylum seekers are wrongly denied emergency support they are legally entitled to from the Home Office, according to new research.
A report by charity Refugee Action reveals the Government is missing its own deadlines for providing support for asylum seekers while their applications are being processed, and failing to provide emergency assistance they are entitled to during these delays.
In one case, a man from Eritrea was left without this basic allowance for almost 10 months (308 days) and was granted refugee status before he was granted asylum support. During this time he and his wife struggled to feed their young child and baby, and could not afford to heat their home during the winter months.
The findings, based on analysis of more than 300 cases involving applications for asylum support in Manchester and London, reveal that individuals and families at risk of homelessness and with no means of supporting themselves are waiting an average of nearly two months for housing and the small amount of money they are entitled to (£5.28 a day).
More than half of people seeking asylum who are in crisis had their application for emergency support refused, but 92 per cent of these applications were approved shortly afterwards when people challenged the decision.
Asylum seekers are not allowed to work or receive mainstream benefits while they wait for a decision on their claim, but support is available to those who are destitute.
So-called section 95 support entitles people to accommodation and an allowance of £36.95 per week if they are considered "destitute", while Section 98 support helps provide emergency accommodation and board in the short term. But the findings show this support is often wrongly denied or delayed, causing mental and physical damage.
Through nearly 40 in-depth interviews, Refugee Action heard shocking accounts of the stress, anxiety and hopelessness felt by families left without support, including women who had attempted to take their own lives and young people receiving counselling after contemplating suicide.
The report reveals how squalid living conditions are causing children to become ill, others are being bullied for smelling because their parents are forced to send them to school in dirty clothes. One family was forced to sleep on the floor of their one-room apartment for months to avoid bedbugs, the report found.
This is despite legislation setting out the Home Office’s duty to prevent people seeking asylum falling into destitution and hardship while their claims are processed — an often lengthy period when the vast majority of people have no right to work.
Refugee Action is now calling for the Government to urgently recommit to applying their existing policy and guidance consistently in all cases, including making decisions on support as quickly as possible.
The charity is also urging the Home Office to Give those seeking sanctuary the right to work, bringing the UK into line with most European countries, so that people seeking asylum would no longer be forced to rely solely on state support to survive.
Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “Our research exposes the appalling treatment of families and individuals who have escaped war and persecution abroad, only to be badly let down here in Britain.
“The failure of the Home Office to follow their own policies has frequently left people homeless, and unable to feed themselves and their families. The Government must take urgent action to prevent some of the most vulnerable people in our society slipping through the cracks of the system.”
In light of the findings, Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “The Government’s failure in its duty of care for asylum seekers is so widespread it appears to have become institutionalised.
"Those who are already traumatised and are fleeing abuse and persecution should be cared for, not face hunger, left homeless or put in housing unfit for human habitation. The fact that in more than nine out of ten cases decisions need to be changed and approval granted for accommodation and support when it was refused the first time is staggering."
Responding to the report, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and anyone who has an emergency need for accommodation can ask to be put in initial accommodation whilst their applications for support are processed.
“Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation. We also cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs.”
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