Proposal for an inspection of the UKBA’s administration of the asylum support system

From: Mike Kaye, Still Human Still Here, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA

Att: Inspection Plan Consultation,

To: Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, 5th Floor, Globe House, 89 Eccleston Square, London, SW1V 1PN

25 November 2012

RE: Proposal for an inspection of the UKBA’s administration of the asylum support system

Dear Chief Inspector

I am writing to you on behalf of the Still Human Still Here coalition in response to your invitation for stakeholders to provide views on areas of the UK Border Agency’s work that could be considered for inclusion in your inspection plan for 2012-13.

Still Human Still Here is a coalition of more than 50 organisations that are campaigning to end the destitution of refused asylum seekers in the UK.  The coalition includes all the main agencies working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, the Red Cross, OXFAM, Amnesty International, several faith based organizations, and an increasing numbers of specialised agencies that are coming into contact with asylum seekers because of problems arising from their destitution, such as Crisis, Doctors of the World, Mind, Citizens Advice Bureau, National Aids Trust and the Children’s Society.

Still Human Still Here would like to propose that one of your inspections for the 2012-13 period review should be UKBA’s administration of the asylum support system. In particular, we would invite you to consider the following questions, which we believe are in line with the inspection criteria set out in your March 2011 document:

  • Is the asylum support system being run in an efficient and effective way and what are the associated costs and risks to UKBA and other government departments?
  • What impact are the current policies and procedures having on service users and what are the associated costs?
  • Is the asylum support system being administered with proper regard for the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children?
  • Is the current asylum support system meeting its stated policy objectives and in what way could the delivery of the service be improved?

Member agencies of Still Human Still Here report serious and on-going problems in relation to efficiency and fairness in the way the current asylum support system is being administered.  A number of illustrative examples of this are highlighted below to give an indication of why the coalition thinks the issues above would benefit from an independent review by your office.

Quality of UKBA’s decision making on support entitlement

The overturn appeal rate against UKBA’s decision to refuse support at the First-tier Tribunal (Asylum Support) is more than 40 per cent and this rises significantly when asylum seekers are represented in appeal hearings. In 2010, 69 per cent of asylum seekers represented by the Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP) won their appeals or had their cases remitted.[1]

Each successful appeal lodged against an initial decision to refuse support represents an increased administrative and financial cost to UKBA and causes unnecessary hardship for the individuals involved.

A review of 55 cases in which ASAP represented asylum seekers at the Tribunal who had been refused Section 4 support found that over 80 per cent won their appeal. All were refused because UKBA decided the applicant was not destitute, but in nearly 80 per cent of cases the refusal letter did not explain the destitution test and why the applicant did not meet the test.  Where an explanation was attempted, none were correct. The report also found that evidence provided was not dealt with in a satisfactory way and that an applicant’s credibility and the length of time they had been without statutory assistance were unfairly relied on to refuse support.[2]

Recent changes to the procedure for screening an initial asylum applicant, whereby the applicant must call UKBA in order to be given an appointment date, have resulted in delayed access to support and increased destitution at the start of the asylum process. Refugee Action continues to see destitute clients who are waiting up to 5 weeks for an appointment, despite the UKBA policy of providing immediate emergency appointments to destitute applicants.

Delays in processing support applications and in providing support

Delays in processing asylum support applications are a primary cause of destitution,[3] and yet advice agencies continue to report significant delays in getting decisions on asylum seekers’ applications. For example, Section 4 cases reviewed by ASAP had to wait more than two weeks for a decision and of these 30 applicants had to wait between two and 21 weeks.[4]  Refugee Action report that the most vulnerable applicants (people who are street homeless) wait on average 8 or 9 days for UKBA to decide whether to offer support.[5]

For those granted support there can be a further delay of several weeks before they can access their support or accommodation and there is no backdated payment available. For example, the Refugee Council has reported delays of about four weeks for clients who had applied for Section 95/98 support and delays of 10 weeks for clients who had applied for Section 4 support. Administrative obstacles and delivery delays mean that these clients do not receive sufficient Emergency Support Tokens (ESTs) with which to support themselves while they wait for their ARC card[6] to be delivered. The situation is no better for Section 4 applicants, who are waiting up to up to 21 days after a decision has been made, to be taken to their accommodation.

UKBA now applies no formal targets for decision making on support applications. For most Section 4 applications, there is no target timescale within which UKBA expect to decide an application. However, for Section 4 applications on the basis of further submissions, UKBA have introduced a 15 working day delay during which they will not grant support, in order to attempt to decide the further representations first. In reality, it often takes UKBA over five weeks to make a decision on the further representations and therefore, the Section 4 application. This delay leaves the applicant, including families with young children, pregnant women and the street homeless, destitute in the meantime.

Once UKBA have found an applicant eligible for support, applicants are lawfully entitled to that support. The current delay in provision of accommodation leaves those who are street homeless facing possible article 3 ECHR breaches as a direct result of their destitution.

Moving between different forms of support (e.g. from Section 95 to Section 4 or from Section 95 to mainstream benefits after they have been granted status in the UK) also frequently leads to people who are entitled to support becoming destitute due to administrative failures. Refugee Action has found that when status is granted to successful applicants, the UKBA frequently commences support termination procedures on the date the status decision is made rather than on the date the status papers are sent to the client. This inevitably leads to situation whereby clients do not benefit from the 28 grace period as they are entitled to by law. The grace period is often cut to only 20 days, leaving people with very little time to arrange access to mainstream benefits and to find alternative accommodation.

It is important to note that there is considerable inconsistency in the way that different regional UKBA offices process support applications, particularly in relation to assessing vulnerability. Any examination of the implementation of support decision-making and allocation should be national in order to identify discrepancies.

Inefficient and inaccessible procedures

The ASF1 support form is 24 pages long not including annexes for further information, and is difficult and time consuming for asylum seekers to complete, particularly as the form is only available in English. There are a number of questions in relation to mainstream benefits that in the vast majority of cases are entirely irrelevant. There is also no place on the form to indicate an application for subsistence-only Section 95 support despite this form being the only mechanism for doing so. Consequently, asylum seekers often have to rely on assistance from voluntary agencies and refugee community organisations to help them to complete the forms at a time when these organisations’ capacity to support asylum seekers has been dramatically reduced.

In order to increase efficiency, UKBA introduced an online support application form that was intended to be interactive – unnecessary questions or sections should disappear as the applicant moves through the form – and submitted online. However, there have been considerable technical issues, in most cases the interactive format does not work at all and it has never been possible to submit the form online. As a consequence, applicants must download the form, complete it electronically, print all the pages and either post (if applying for Section 95 support) or fax (if applying for Section 4 support) the lengthy document through to UKBA. UKBA staff will not accept missing pages, even if no information has been supplied on those pages so the applicant must print and fax a minimum of 24 pages. This carries an additional burden for UKBA caseowners who must then go through each lengthy application by hand.

It also appears that inadequate efforts are made to help overcome barriers to accessing support, such as health problems, travel difficulties, child care problems and understanding the process in general. ASAP considers these barriers to be the explanation for why so few women asylum seekers attend the Appeals Tribunal. A snapshot survey carried out at the end of December 2010 by ASAP found that only 13 per cent of asylum seekers attending the Tribunal were women.[7]

Asylum seekers are also frequently asked to provide additional information even though they have provided all the information that was requested in the application form. For example, to provide further evidence of destitution after they have submitted an application for Section 95 support. The requests are often extremely demanding, and even though the applicants provide as much evidence as they can, they are still refused support. This decision tends to be overturned at appeal. While in some cases requests for further information may be legitimate, there are indicators that in many cases this is routine and unnecessary and consequently leaves the asylum seeker without support for a longer period of time.

Support provided is not meeting stated policy objectives and standards and insufficient regard is given to promoting the welfare of children

Dispersal of pregnant women prior to birth does not seem to take full account of the impact this will have on the mother. There is often not enough time to connect to the appropriate services in the dispersal area and it can leave the mother isolated and with no support network directly after the birth. This is particularly important as pregnant asylum seeking women are seven times more likely to develop complications during childbirth and three times more likely to die than the general population.[8]  Despite this, there are instances where local health services have intervened to try and prevent dispersal on health grounds and have not been successful.

We have a number of concerns about the standard of accommodation provided to supported asylum seekers and the mechanisms for managing these standards. In the past, reports from the advice agencies revealed that overcrowding was a problem, while in some areas the UKBA Accommodation Providers were commissioning mixed accommodation for families and single adults with no consideration for the risks posed to children.[9]

The Government’s stated policy is that asylum support is set at a rate which will allow asylum seekers to meet their “essential living” needs of food, clothing and toiletries while their application is being considered.

However, Section 95 support levels have been reduced well below 70 per cent of Income Support for the majority of asylum seekers.  All single adults receive £36.62 a week (just over £5 a day) and just under 70 per cent of asylum seekers are single adults. A lone parent receives just under £44 a week, the equivalent of just over £6 a day.  Still Human believes that this is not sufficient to meet their essential living needs.[10]

Inadequate support makes individuals suffer, but it also has indirect social and financial costs. Where people cannot meet their essential living needs it leads to a higher incidence of physical and mental health problems, with consequent pressures on the NHS. It also forces asylum seekers to find other survival strategies like illegal work, prostitution, begging or street homelessness – all of which have social and financial consequences for policing, local authorities and the voluntary sector. Destitution also poses direct risks to the efficiency and effectiveness of UKBA as it makes engagement with the asylum process (including with UKBA, legal representatives and the appeals system) more difficult for those with outstanding claims. It also makes voluntary returns and enforced removals more difficult as refused asylum cannot properly consider return when they are focused on day to day survival and UKBA may not be able to locate people for removal once support has been cut off and people become homeless.

Refused asylum seekers who the Government recognises temporarily cannot return through no fault of their own can receive Section 4 support.  However, they receive £1.23 less per week than they would have received on Section 95 support, delivered through a plastic payment card rather than in cash, making it impossible for asylum seekers to access vital services like making phone calls or taking buses. To access Section 4 support a new application has to be made and those living with friends and family have to leave that accommodation and go into housing provided by the Government at the taxpayers’ expense in order to access subsistence support.  This parallel asylum support for approximately 2,500 seems inefficient, cost ineffective and most definitely has a negative impact on the asylum seekers affected.[11]

For further information contact Mike Kaye, Advocacy Manager for Still Human Still Here on 020 7033 1600 or

[1] ASAP, No credibility: UKBA decision making and Section 4 Support, April 2011, page 10.

[2] ASAP, op.cit., pages 3 and 8.

[3] The Second Destitution Tally 2009 revealed that 29% of destitute people were waiting for a decision on their asylum support application.

[4] ASAP, op.cit., page 9.

[5] Based on a snapshot exercise carried out by Refugee Action in 2009.

[6] The ARC card is the mechanism through which Section 95 support is delivered.

[7] ASAP, Barriers to support appeals for asylum seeking women, September 2011, page 4.

[8] Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, The 6th report of the confidential enquiry into maternal deaths in the UK. Quoted in Faculty for Public Health, The health needs of asylum seekers, 2008.

[9] The Asylum Support Partnership response to the UKBA consultation Reforming Asylum Support: effective support for those with protection needs, January 2010.

[10] For detailed analysis and calculation of how much is needed to meet essential living needs see Still Human Still Here,  At the end of the line, 2010, page 34.

[11] For more details see ASAP, Your inflexible friend: The cost of living without cash, September 2010.