11 April 2014
In Refugee Action, R (On the Application Of) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1033 (Admin) (09 April 2014), the High Court of England and Wales declared unlawful the UK government’s decision to freeze the level of cash payments to meet the essential living needs of asylum seekers for 2013/2014 at the rates which had applied since 2011. The High Court agreed with the applicant, ECRE Member Refugee Action, that the government had failed to take into account relevant essential living needs in the provision of asylum support, and had failed to gather sufficient information to enable a rational judgment to be made. The weekly cash support for asylum seekers must now be reconsidered in light of the judgment.
Asylum seekers in the UK are excluded from most social security benefits and are ordinarily prohibited from working pending the determination of their claim. Instead, under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the government may provide support to asylum seekers without accommodation and unable to meet other essential living needs.
Alongside free accommodation, healthcare and education services, support for essential living needs is met by weekly cash payments. From 2008 to 2011, asylum support increased in line with price inflation. Since 2011, there has been no increase in weekly asylum support levels, which have remained at £36.62 for a single adult, £72.52 for couples, £43.94 for lone parents, £39.80 for 16 & 17 year olds, and £52.96 for children under 16.
Specifically, the High Court ruled that the Home Secretary, when setting the level of cash payments, had erroneously failed to take into account (1) certain essential household goods, (2) special requirements of new mothers, (3) non-prescription medication and (4) ‘the opportunity to maintain interpersonal relationships and a minimum level of participation in social, cultural and religious life’ . She also failed to consider whether it is an essential living need to (1) travel by public transport to attend appointments with legal advisors, (2) make telephone calls to maintain necessary contact with families and legal representatives, and (3) purchase writing materials for communication and for the education of children .
Dave Garratt, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, commented: “While we are hugely heartened by today’s judgment, we urgently need to see the Home Office acting on this ground-breaking ruling by setting up a transparent and robust enquiry into the way asylum support rates are calculated. Once and for all let’s put an end to these levels of poverty amongst some of the most vulnerable in Britain”.
Refugee Action’s research found that half of asylum seekers surveyed couldn’t buy enough food to feed themselves or their families. The research also found that 43% of asylum seekers miss a meal because they can’t afford to eat while a shocking 88% don’t have enough money to buy clothes.
According to government data, at the end of December 2013, the number of asylum seekers receiving this kind of support in the UK was 23,459.
The Court also reviewed the decision in light of the EU Reception Conditions Directive, which requires the provision of ‘material reception conditions to ensure a standard of living adequate for the health of applicants and capable of ensuring their subsistence’. However, the Court’s conclusions were adopted only on the basis of domestic law.