Blog post by an anonymous contributor working in a front-line organisation

The financial support given to asylum seekers is far too low. Worse, payments are not backdated when Home Office mistakes cause delays in its administration. Comparing Universal Credit with Section 95 (asylum support), reveals a distinction in the government’s approach to fairness, sending a clear message of hostility to asylum seekers. 

What is Section 95?

Those who claim asylum in the UK often arrive with nothing, and are not allowed to work. In order that they are not left destitute, the Home Office will provide (to those who can prove they don’t have access to other means of support) accommodation and financial support. This is called Section 95 support. Asylum seekers are usually housed in hotels when they first claim asylum, to be dispersed to self-catering accommodation eventually. When they’re in hotels, they are eligible for £8.24 a week. (When people were first housed in hotels at the beginning of the pandemic, they were given no cash support at all, until the High Court ruled in 2021 that this was unlawful.) When they’re moved to long-term accommodation, where they’ll wait for the time it takes for their claims to be processed, this support will increase to £40.85 per week. 

How does this provision compare with Universal Credit?

Universal Credit (UC) is £77.28 per week (based on allowance of £334.91 per month for over 25s). The National Asylum Stakeholder Forum has argued that asylum payments should be at least 70% of mainstream benefits, which used to be the case. Instead, it’s just under 53%. The breaking of this link is perhaps best illustrated in how when Universal Credit was boosted by £20 a week during the pandemic, those on asylum support received just 3p extra per week, an uplift which was described by campaigners as “an insult”

Asylum Matters argues that these levels of asylum support “pushes people seeking asylum well below the poverty line, is inadequate to ensure a dignified standard of living and has a particularly detrimental impact on children and families”. The struggle to survive on this meagre allowance is only intensifying with the cost of living crisis. 

The more significant and more sinister difference, though, has to do with the date on which the support begins. Section 95 is awarded from the date of decision, whereas UC is paid from the date the claim was made. This means that those receiving UC can expect to receive back-dated payments, whereas those in the asylum system can wait for weeks and months for their claims to be processed, during which time they receive no money at all. 

On a practical level, leaving people without financial support while denying them the right to work and support themselves, forces people into precarity and leaves them vulnerable to exploiters. It may also contradict the provisions of the Refugee Convention, which provides in Article 24 1(b) that “[t]he Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment as is accorded to nationals in respect of [Social Security]”. 

People who claim Section 95 support are told that it should take a few weeks to process. However, it’s not unusual for an applicant to end up waiting several months. By failing to backdate payments, the government is ultimately saying that if the Home Office fails to process a claim on time, or at all, it is the applicant’s problem. This is an implicit message with serious repercussions, especially when compared with the very different way that UC is administered. Such distinct treatment compromises any potential bond of trust between an applicant and the Home Office; the very department to which an asylum seeker must relay their most painful memories of war, torture and persecution. Basically, it is deeply degrading, and works as further ‘hostile environment’ messaging. For those of us who work with asylum seekers, battling for an update on the status of a client’s Section 95 application is a familiar part of the role. So, too, is the conversation about back-payments, delays, and inadequate support levels, followed by the question, worded one way or another: “But am I not a person, too?”

NB: If you are an asylum seeker who has been granted Section 95 (and received a grant letter), but has faced delays in receiving your ASPEN card, you are entitled to back-payments covering the period from the date you were granted to the date you received your ASPEN card. You can make this request through Migrant Help. 

See the ASAP Project’s website for more information on entitlements and how to apply for support. 

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