The amount of money paid to support asylum seekers could be reviewed after the Home Secretary Theresa May lost a high court battle.
Asylum seekers are entitled to “asylum support”, including accommodation, certain public services and cash payments, while their claims are being assessed. The support is provided as they are usually prevented from working, and many are excluded from most social security benefits.
Last June, the home secretary set a level of payments of £36.62 a week for single adult asylum seekers, rising to £72.52 for qualifying couples for 2013/2014.
This morning, Mr Justice Popplewell ruled that the Home Office acted unlawfully, and that there were errors in the way that the payments were set.
He quashed her decision not to increase the level at which cash payments are made for essential living needs, and ordered her to reconsider.
The ruling followed a case launched by a number of organisations led by the charity Refugee Action, which said there was a striking disparity between subsistence payments for asylum seekers compared with those given to people receiving income support.
Mr Justice Popplewell added that Ms May was “irrational” in her decision making, had “misunderstood information”, and had “misunderstood and misinterpreted” Office for National Statistics data when setting the low levels of support.
Delivering judgement, he said the decision to freeze rates of financial support was “flawed”, adding: “She [Secretary of State for the Home Office] failed to take reasonable steps to gather sufficient information to enable her to make a rational judgement in setting the asylum support rates for 2013/2014.”
Refugee Action and lawyers from The Migrants’ Law Project challenged the Home Office, saying that the payments for asylum seekers had not been increased since April 2011. When asylum support was introduced in 2000, payments were fixed at 70 per cent of what is paid in income support for adults, and at the same level of income support for children.
However, the charity argued, by 2013/2014, asylum support rates had fallen to 51 per cent of income support provided to a single adult over the age of 25. It was just 49 per cent of what is given to a lone parent. A judicial review was launched by Refugee Action in July last year.
Mr Justice Popplewell said that Ms May was incorrect after she had failed to include items such as household goods, including washing powder, nappies and non-prescription medicines when deciding the level of money needed to meet “essential living needs”.
He also said that she had “misunderstood and misinterpreted” data from the Office for National Statistics when making her decision, and that she had “misdirected herself in law as to her duties towards 16 and 17 year olds, and whether children within this age group are required to attend full-time education”.
Dave Garratt, chief executive of Refugee Action, welcomed the ruling, but added: “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.”
Matthew Reid, chief executive of The Children’s Society said in a statement: “Financial support for children and families seeking protection in the UK can be as little as half that given to those on mainstream benefits, and they are not allowed to work.
“In some cases they would need nearly three times more financial assistance than they currently receive in order to be pulled out of poverty.”
The Home Office said that it would consider whether to appeal against the decision. A spokesman said: “We are disappointed with the court’s judgment. We are looking at all options, including appealing.”