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High Court rules Home Office system for supporting asylum seekers is unlawful after legal challenge by asylum seekers

The Home Office’s system for supporting destitute asylum seekers whilst they wait for their asylum claims to be determined has been ruled unlawful after a group of asylum seekers brought a Judicial Review in the High Court.

Posted on 21 July 2023

The ruling found the Home Secretary was in breach of her duty to provide financial support and adequate housing to prevent asylum seekers from being rendered street homeless and hungry. In particular, the Court found that the time the Home Office took to consider applications for support, and then to provide support to those deemed eligible, was unlawful.

The Court also found that the Home Office’s failure to provide emergency interim financial support to those waiting for a decision on their application for support was unlawful. Previously the Home Office would refuse to provide emergency financial support and instead required individuals, including those who had access to their own accommodation, to move into hotel accommodation to avoid starvation.

In the UK, asylum seekers are not able to obtain employment for the first year after their arrival, and after that only in very limited professions. Asylum seekers are also not eligible for mainstream benefits such as Universal Credit. Therefore, to prevent destitution, many asylum seekers are reliant on basic support and accommodation – called “s.95 support”- from the Home Office.

Three asylum seekers, represented by lawyers from Leigh Day, claimed the Home Secretary had failed in her duty to provide them with adequate support in time to stop them falling into destitution. They claimed the Home Secretary’s system risked breaching their human right to be free from degrading and inhuman treatment.

The first asylum seeker, known as K, is a single mother from India with a five-year-old child, who left her husband as a result of domestic violence. She was able to live with her friend, alongside her daughter, but had no money to meet their basic needs. She therefore applied for “subsistence only” support in January 2022. Although the Court has now given guidance that decisions should ordinarily be made within 10 days, the Home Office did not grant her application until August 2022, and only after the issue of a judicial review claim challenging the delays. She tried to get emergency financial support whilst waiting for a decision, so that she could buy food to feed her daughter but was told she would have to move into a hotel, which she feared would unsettle her daughter, and in any event was an unnecessary expense. As a result, she stayed where she was and often struggled to make ends meet.

The second asylum seeker, known as NY, comes from Iraq. He is a single father of two children aged 14 and 9 who suffers from serious medical conditions. After a delay of 11 weeks, the Home Office accepted he was destitute and granted him accommodation and financial support in May 2021. However, it then failed to provide accommodation for 7 months and the financial support for a whole year. In the meantime, he had to rely on spoiled food from local shops, to feed his children.

The third linked claim, made by an 82-year-old disabled female asylum-seeker from Pakistan known as AM, centred around delays to decision-making at the Home Office. She applied for accommodation and financial support in November 2021. Despite calling numerous times, and pointing out that she was about to be made street homeless and did not have enough money to eat, she was told that her documents had not been received. She was forced to re-apply multiple times. Eventually, she was forced to bring court proceedings in October 2022 to obtain support. After denying that it had ever received her documents, it transpired on the day before the final hearing in February 2023, that the Home Office had received AM’s documents in June 2022. The Home Secretary has conceded that she unlawfully failed to perform her statutory duty to provide AM with accommodation and financial assistance and has now agreed to pay AM compensation.

The judgment provides vital guidance to asylum seekers and the Home Office as to the lawful processing times for determining applications for support, and for providing support. The Home Secretary will now be forced to reconsider its current system for providing support to destitute asylum seekers to comply with her legal obligations.

Associate Solicitor at Leigh Day, John Crowley said:

“The court has found in no uncertain terms that the Home Office’s current system for supporting asylum seekers is unlawful. It is unacceptable that my clients, and so many others like them, had to go months and months without any form of support, forcing them into desperate and horrifying situations. It cannot be right that people legitimately seeking asylum are made to suffer such degrading treatment. It is time for the Home Office to abide by its legal duties and rectify this wide-reaching problem.”

The High Court also ruled the Home Secretary must provide additional financial support to pregnant women and children under 3 years old in the form of cash payments as opposed to provision in kind. This part of the case was brought on behalf of two other asylum seekers represented by the law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn.

John Crowley
Asylum Human rights Immigration Judicial review

John Crowley

John Crowley is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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