Flawed asylum support service forces advice centres to fill gaps in system

The National Asylum Support Service is “a
shambles”, according to citizens advice bureaux, which claim to be
supporting the dispersed asylum seekers Nass was set up two years
ago to serve.

A report published last week by the National
Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (Nacab) says Nass is
“comprehensively failing both asylum-seekers and taxpayers”.

Based on evidence from the day-to-day casework
of CABs in England and Wales, the report describes “serious
shortcomings” in Nass’s performance and accessibility, warning that
although recently promised reforms are welcome, the government must
go much further and establish local Nass counter or “drop-in”

CABs in asylum dispersal areas and elsewhere
have dealt with increasing numbers of advice enquiries from
Nass-supported asylum-seekers. They have helped individuals contact
Nass to obtain extra support so that they can attend obligatory
Home Office interviews or appeal hearings, or purchase items not
allowed for by the much-derided voucher scheme. There have also
been problems with Nass-provided accommodation, and with
individuals allowed to stay who find themselves left in a welfare
limbo between Nass and the benefits system.

In many of these cases, administrative delay
and inefficiency has been compounded by process error on the part
of Nass, the report claims. “But in the vast majority of such
cases, CABs are called on to provide not advice as such, but a
‘helping hand’ in breaking down the acute inaccessibility of Nass,
which has no local counter services in the dispersal areas. In
effect, CABs are providing services that should be provided by Nass

Despite the government’s acknowledgement that
Nass is not working well, and it plans to overhaul the asylum
system, including abolishing vouchers and introducing reception
centres, Nacab warns that the reforms are not as far-reaching as
they might at first appear.

In reality, it says, it will be years before
more than a small proportion of asylum-seekers can hope to find
places in proposed reception centres, making it all the more
essential that immediate steps are taken to put the existing system
right. Nacab chief executive David Harker said: “As it stands, Nass
can only be described as a shambles. It is simply unacceptable that
men, women and children who have already faced some of the worst
violations of human rights should suffer further.”

Process Error: CAB Clients’ Experience
of the National Asylum Support Service
, available from www.nacab.org.uk  

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