First cases under new asylum rules land at doors of social work teams

Social services departments are already facing demands to support
asylum seekers no longer eligible for support from the National
Asylum Support Service.

Homelessness charity Shelter asked Leeds social services department
last week for a community care assessment on a 28-year-old
Cameroonian with severe mental health problems, who claimed asylum
two days after his arrival.

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which became law
last week, states asylum seekers must apply “as soon as reasonably
practicable” in order to be eligible for Nass support.

Meanwhile, human rights group Liberty won an emergency injunction
securing basic food and shelter for four Iraqi Kurds who had also
sought help within two days of arriving in the country but were
told they had not been quick enough.

The four will be given special assistance until an application for
a judicial review of the new law is heard next week.

Voluntary organisations condemned the legislation and last week
Labour MP Lynne Jones tabled an early day motion supporting their
statement against the new law.

A Shelter spokesperson said the assessment had been carried out on
the Cameroonian in Leeds, but warned it was “not a guarantee of
entitlement to services”. Although the council said it would
provide services if the assessment revealed special needs, Shelter
warned that if these needs were deemed to be the result of his
current destitution and not pre-existing then he could still be
denied support.

“This is just the first of many vulnerable people who we fear will
be forced on to the streets by the new asylum law,” said Ben
Jackson, director of external affairs.

Peter Gilroy, chairperson of the Association of Directors of Social
Services asylum task force, said: “This case highlights local
authority concerns about section 55 [of the act]. It would seem
this section was drafted with little thought as to the role local
authorities might be called upon to play.”

In a parliamentary answer, health minister Jacqui Smith denied that
the change would result in more asylum seekers claiming to have
special needs in order to gain support under the National
Assistance Act 1948. She added that it was “not anticipated that
from January 2003 local councils will incur additional

Immigration minister Beverley Hughes added there was no reason to
believe the act would lead to an increase in rough sleepers.

But the Shelter spokesperson said: “This first case shows that the
government is wrong on both counts.”

Meanwhile, in the High Court, Mr Justice Kay ordered urgent
hearings of two test cases for the new legislation and warned the
courts could face a flood of similar challenges.

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