Government abandons section 55 rule denying support to claimants

    The government has announced a climbdown on its policy of denying
    asylum seekers support unless they make their claim within three
    days of arriving in the UK.

    Under the revised approach, the National Asylum Support Service
    will provide food and shelter to claimants unless it is satisfied
    that they have an alternative source of support available to
    them.

    The U-turn comes after the government lost its appeal in May
    against a High Court ruling that section 55 of the Nationality,
    Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 breached three asylum seekers’
    human rights.

    In effect, it removes the need for asylum seekers to claim asylum
    “as soon as reasonably practicable” in order to qualify for
    assistance.

    More than 10,000 people were denied support under section 55
    between its introduction in January 2003 and March this year.

    Interviewing and decision-making under section 55 has been
    suspended since the Court of Appeal judgement against the
    government and all asylum seekers affected by the suspension were
    provided with emergency support.

    Asylum seekers who were previously denied support under section 55
    can now apply to have their case reconsidered.

    The Refugee Council has long campaigned against section 55 together
    with other campaigners and heralded the change in policy as a
    significant victory.

    Chief executive Maeve Sherlock urged ministers not to pursue their
    planned challenge to the ruling in the House of Lords, but instead
    to “follow the logic of this change of approach, which will ensure
    asylum seekers have the basic essentials with which to live”.

    In another U-turn, the government has abandoned attempts to broaden
    the diversity of asylum caseworkers by abolishing the job’s minimum
    academic requirements after problems with the quality of decision
    making, a new report reveals.

    The National Audit Office report published last week states that
    the change came after it had become apparent that some of the new
    caseworkers were less able to make properly considered decisions on
    complex asylum cases.

    In November 2002, a competency-based approach and psychometric
    tests replaced the need for asylum caseworkers to have two A-levels
    and five GCSEs.

    But the report says the academic requirements were restored in
    February.

    – Improving the Speed and Quality of Asylum Decisions
    available from www.nao.org.uk

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