Legal challenge over asylum seeker payments during Covid

Basic cash support and essentials are still not being provided by the Home Office despite being instructed to do so more than a month ago by a high court judge.

Law firm Duncan Lewis challenged in the high court, the government’s failure to provide adequate asylum support.  The judge, Sir Duncan Ouseley, said asylum seekers in emergency accommodation should have been receiving financial support during the pandemic, and ordered the department to increase weekly cash assistance from £5 to £8 to cover essentials, such as soap, medicine, bus fares and phone credit.

Immigration minister Chris Philip, said following the ruling, that payments of £3 per week for clothing should be backdated to March, and payments of £4.70 per week for travel should be backdated to July.

Duncan Lewis says however, that so far the Home Office has failed to provide support in line with this concession, or to backdate payments, and are preparing to issue further urgent proceedings against the department this week.

Primisha Chudasama, a solicitor with Duncan Lewis, said: “It has been a month since the Home Office announced the decision, and non of our clients have received the increase in cash support and no arrangements have been put into place to obtain back payments”.

“Many clients have faced a significant deterioration in their mental health and sense of self-worth, particularly as they are constantly worrying about how they are going to meet their essential living needs”, she said.  “Often clients have had to choose between phone credit and buying warm clothing for the winter months, or using public transport to attend important appointments”.

Duncan Lewis says one of their clients, an asylum seeker living in accommodation run by Serco, was subjected to verbal abuse when he asked for the full £8 support.  He said that he and others in full-board accommodation receive one sample size shampoo and body wash a week, and two rolls of toilet paper.  All other essentials have to be bought from the rest of the £5 weekly stipend. The gentleman also suffered         from lymphoedema, which causes swelling in the body’s tissues, but says he cannot access medication or pain relief. He says that when he requested paracetamol to help with swelling in his leg, staff refused and declined to provide bus fare to the hospital, suggesting he should walk the three miles.  He was unable to call for medical help because he had no phone credit.

Duncan Lewis are to argue on his behalf that £8 per week is too little to cover essentials.  They will say a further increase is necessary for clothing, travel costs and communication.

Welfare and housing manager at the Helen Bamber Foundation, Zoe Dexter, says many clients that the charity work with are in a similar position.

She said: “Too many people have been in this situation for far too long, and have yet to receive the money promised by the Home Office.  We have seen that their mental health has deteriorated because of these conditions, with no money whatsoever to buy medication, food or pay for the bus”.

Director of advocacy at the Refugee Council, Lisa Doyle, said: “We know this delay has compounded the misery isolation and hardship of people forced to live in temporary accommodation while they await a decision on their asylum claim”.

The Home Office says it “acted quickly and decisively earlier this year to look after asylum seekers ‘wellbeing’ during the pandemic”.

A spokesperson said: “Following the decision to increase the weekly cash allowance for those in full board accommodation, we are upgrading the system we use to provide for card payments.  In the meantime, we have agreed with accommodation providers that they make cash payments.  Needs related to food and toiletries will continue to be met by the accommodation provider under existing contractual arrangements”.