Home Office faces legal challenge over asylum seeker payments during Covid | Global development

The Home Office is still failing to provide thousands of asylum seekers in emergency hotel accommodation with basic cash support and essentials more than a month after being instructed by the high court to fulfil their legal requirements to do so.

In October, law firm Duncan Lewis challenged the government’s failure to provide adequate asylum support in the high court. 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.

Following the ruling, immigration minister Chris Philp said payments of £3 a week for clothing should be backdated to March, and payments of £4.70 a week for travel should be backdated to July.

Yet Duncan Lewis says 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.

“It has been a month since the Home Office announced the decision, and none of our clients have received the increase in cash support and no arrangements have been put in place to obtain back payments,” said Primisha Chudasama, a solicitor for Duncan Lewis.

“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.

Javier*, who has lived in a hotel in Derby for the past six months, said: “They started yelling at me and intimidating me, saying ‘Do you think you’re special? Everyone receives £5 – it’s not different for you’.”

He said: “I don’t think I’m special, but I know that we should be getting more help. It made me feel really humiliated.”

He said he and others on full-board accommodation receive one sample size shampoo and body wash a week, and two rolls of toilet paper. All other essentials must be bought from the rest of the £5 weekly stipend.

Javier has 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 a bus fare to go to the hospital, suggesting he should walk the three miles instead. He was unable to call for medical help because he had no phone credit.

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

Zoe Dexter, welfare and housing manager at the Helen Bamber Foundation, says many clients the charity works with are in a similar position to Javier.

“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,” she said.

Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at the Refugee Council, 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.”

*Name changed to protect identity

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