Special report on warnings that law change will leave asylum seekers destitute

Local authorities and voluntary organisations have warned that
asylum seekers will be forced to live on the streets following the
government’s decision to tighten immigration laws,
writes Clare Jerrom.

Under section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act,
asylum applicants will only be eligible for support if they can
prove they applied for asylum ‘as soon as reasonably
practicable’, and that they can meet the criteria for

The Refugee Council believes asylum seekers will be expected to
apply at a port immediately on entry into the country.

Under section 57 of the act, the home secretary can also
withhold support from the National Asylum Support Service for all
in-country asylum applicants who are unable to account for how they
came to the UK, detail their circumstances such as how they have
been living in the UK so far, and do not co-operate with

Families with children are an exception to the new restrictions
to in-country support, asylum seekers with special needs will
continue to get support under the National Assistance Act 1948 and
children are helped under the Children Act 1989.

Home office minister Beverley Hughes said: “It is a reasonable
expectation that desperate people fleeing for their lives will
claim asylum as soon as they can, and we will continue to support
these people in the same way we do now.”

“However we are determined to tackle abuse and these measures
send a clear signal across the world that the asylum system must be
used for its proper purpose,” she added.

The latest official figures show that 46,160, or 65 per cent of
successful claims, in 2001 were made by in-country applicants and
not at port of entry.

A Shelter spokesperson said: “You cannot expect someone fleeing
persecution to have an intimate knowledge of British law. They are
not likely to know that they have to claim as soon as

But with NASS withdrawing support from this group, who will
support them? Not local authorities, according to John Ransford,
the LGA spokesperson on social affairs, health and housing.

He claimed the legislation has “disempowered” local authorities,
and if they supported asylum seekers after NASS said they were
ineligible, they would be “acting beyond the law”.

However, Peter Gilroy, chairperson of the Association of
Directors of Social Services asylum taskforce, believes local
authorities will be affected in a number of ways. Firstly, in a
letter to Beverley Hughes on 23 December, he highlighted that final
guidance on the new legal situation had not been presented to local
authorities, even though the law was to be implemented on 8

“It leaves our staff vulnerable when training has not been put
in place which is normal practice on any new legislation,” he

Gilroy added that he was “convinced” there will be operational
implications and costs on local government.

The major areas of concern include:-

– more adult asylum seekers claiming to be children

– more asylum seekers entering the country with children who
they pretend are theirs

– more asylum seekers claiming to have special needs to access
mental health or learning difficulties services

– more destitute asylum seekers and a subsequent increase in
destitution-related crime

and the possibility that local authorities will experience more
judicial challenges on their failure to provide support

In a separate letter to fellow local authorities, Gilroy added
that the increased presentations of asylum seekers as children in
need or as vulnerable adults would perhaps be “beyond the capacity
of our assessment and provider services, let alone our

The voluntary sector has also voiced concerns. A spokesperson
for Shelter said: “Someone has to provide these people with
services, and if there is no support from the government, they will
become destitute and the voluntary sector is likely to provide

A Crisis spokesperson added that it was impossible for
homelessness organisations to “fill the hole” left by the
legislation. “When so much good work has been done to tackle social
exclusion, to make the amendment and risk a rise in rough sleeping
means the left hand is not working with the right hand.”

A number of voluntary organisations including the Refugee
Council, Maternity Alliance, Oxfam and Refugee Action have joined
force to express “deep concern” over the legislation, and branded
the implementation “a retrograde step”.

“The measure will cause homelessness and could force many asylum
applicants onto the streets, undermining government strategies
tackling rough sleeping, promoting social cohesion and reducing

Many of the organisations will be forced to deal with the
consequences of the new measure, a joint statement said. They aim
to provide advice and basic living needs.

“But all of us are very clear that whatever we do will be
painfully inadequate,” the statement said. “We cannot –
should not – be expected to provide food and shelter to
refugees waiting for the government to recognise their asylum

“That is a national responsibility that must not be

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