UKBA to 'rob' poorest asylum seekers of unspent support

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) of the Home Office is to take unspent asylum support from the poorest single asylum seekers.  The new 'Azure' payment card that asylum seekers will use at retail outlets to spend their asylum support when on 'section 4' payments, will have it's balance reduced to £5.00 when the next payment is due. 

Any unspent support over this on the cards of asylum seekers without children will thus be be lost if not spent by Sunday night.

Section 4 asylum support  is given to failed asylum seekers awaiting voluntary departure, or who are unfit to leave the country pregnant, or who have a fresh claim for asylumthat is undecided.

The support is just £35 per week and was previously paid by the accommodation provider handing out vouchers redeemable at supermarkets.  the new Azure card is being rolled out in stages.

 The section 4 payment card will be introduced on the following dates:

  1. in Scotland first by the end of November 2009;
  2. London and the South and Wales by December 2009;
  3. The North (Yorkshire and Humber) and the North West by January 2010 in 2 bits;
  4. The Midland and the East of England by February 2010

 The change does not affect asylum seekers.  The UKBA justify the change by saying that:

"Support levels are designed to enable an individual or a family unit to buy food and essentials they need on a weekly basis. Recently introduced financial checks on section 4 service users have indicated that around 20% have bank accounts or access to other financial resources."

John Donkersley, Advice Services Manager at the NRC said:

"The change will rob the poorest asylum seekers of cash. They may not spend all the credit on the card if they are ill and can't get out, or if they would like to save up some of their support for a larger item e.g. a piece of clothing or shoes that need replacing but that they cannot afford from their weekly money all at once."

"Those asylum seekers on section 4 who have bank accounts will have set them up in better times, and or have used them on very limited occasions, e.g. to buy mobile phone credit online so they can ring solicitors, or make hospital appointments. The UKBA do not say that all of these bank accounts have any money in them or that they all mask fraudulent claims for support."

The new card can be used at all the major supermarkets, with the exception of Morrisons, along with Londis/Budgen; Costcutter; Co-op/Somerfield; Farm Foods; Peacocks; Wilkinsons; Boots and Mothercare.