Asylum ruling will cost local councils millions

London boroughs face costs of more than £1 million after
cash payments to asylum seekers were ruled illegal by the High
Court in a test case last week.

The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham was fighting the
Department of Health’s decision that it did not have to reimburse
local authorities for cash payments because they were ultra

The dispute arose after the Court of Appeal ruled in February
that councils had a duty to provide food and accommodation to
single, adult asylum seekers left destitute by benefit restrictions
in the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996.

Councils found cash payments easier and cheaper to administer
than the alternatives of food vouchers or meals-on-wheels. Mr
Justice Laws said there was evidence that ‘grave hardships’ would
be suffered unless cash payments were made, but he agreed with the
DoH’s argument that they did not come under the National Assistance
Act 1948.

Stephen Burke, chairperson of Hammersmith & Fulham social
services committee, said cash payments amounting to £100,000
had already been made. ‘The money will have to be found from
existing council budgets, and will restrict our ability to use bed
and breakfast accommodation.’

The council is considering appealing against the decision.

Meanwhile Hammersmith & Fulham is working with other local
authorities to develop a joint approach to the government in an
effort to resolve the problems. It estimated that the bill for
1997-8 for single asylum seekers was £920,000.

The Scottish Office said the ruling would not affect Scottish
councils, which would be compensated for payments to asylum seekers
made under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968.

n A report by human rights charity Justice, and the Immigration
Law Practitioners’ Association urges the government to deal with
the backlog of 70,000 asylum cases. The Home Office said it was
reviewing procedures to make them ‘firmer, faster and fairer’.

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