A new report examining the causes and extent of destitution in Scotland has found that hundreds of asylum seekers could be ‘saved’ from destitution if a few simple changes were made to the asylum process.
The report, 21 Days Later: Application, Decision, Confusion, Deprivation, Destitution, was produced by the British Red Cross and the Refugee Survival Trust (RST) in response to the increasing number of destitute people requesting support from the two charities over the past five years. The report also highlights successful initiatives to deal with destitution and suggestions for improvements.
The title of the report refers to the fact that the vast majority of asylum seekers are likely to be destitute after their 21 day ‘move on’ period. Even those whose claims have been successful find themselves in destitution. Destitution is all too frequent in many other stages of the asylum process too, most notably when moving in between stages. The report has been organised thematically into the main causes of destitution (application, decision, confusion, deprivation), using case studies and statistics to further illustrate them. The main findings of the report are outlined below:
- Claimants are at most risk of destitution when moving in between stages of the application process. The report identified key stages which present the highest risk: before an application has been submitted, when appealing a negative decision, when transferring onto mainstream benefits and when moving onto Section 4 support.
- Asylum seekers are in an extremely vulnerable position when arriving in Scotland. If they did not claim asylum at the port of entry, in order to submit their application, they must travel independently to Liverpool, the location of their nearest Asylum Screening Unit, which was found to be both financially and personally stressful.
- The ever-changing asylum system produces a lack of clarity regarding claimants’ entitlements and their means of obtaining these. Poor and inconsistent advice to claimants, or miscommunication between staff and service users results in destitution through an inaccurate understanding of the process. It is common for claimants to miss out on support they are entitled to. The main example cited in the report is the provision and distribution of Emergency Support Tokens, which claimants often fail to receive due to the use of unreliable couriers.
- During the application process, insufficient information is provided to claimants regarding their options and the consequences. If they are to move smoothly and unproblematically to the next stage of their application, they need to be prepared and to have made alternative plans. Those who are refused asylum and have to apply for Section 4 support often experience problems in applying, both because they find it difficult to access the necessary information and also because applications are handled by numerous offices nationally. The report demonstrates how poor communication results in extended periods of destitution.
- Even if refugee status is granted, asylum support ends after 28 days, which is often insufficient time for refugees to access employment, mainstream benefits and other essential services.
- The asylum system is extremely complicated and constantly changing, so delays, errors and complications arising from both administrative and claimants’ actions and resulting in destitution are common. The report cites maternity payments as an example. They were introduced in 2008 but are difficult to access and are reduced for those receiving Section 4 support, forcing new mothers to rely on maternity packs from the British Red Cross and grants from the RST.
The findings and analysis of 21 Days Later: Application, Decision, Confusion, Deprivation, Destitution identify significant flaws in the asylum process that can be practically addressed. Through increased regionalisation and stronger partnership between organisations dealing with asylum applications, the numbers of those experiencing destitution could be significantly reduced. Improved communication and provision of information to claimants is the key to ensuring that all those entitled to benefits receive them, enabling the grants and resources of NGOs supporting asylum seekers to be deployed elsewhere.
- UKBA should expand its limited screening facilities to Scotland, so that single adults and childless couples can submit their claim in a fully sourced unit nearby rather than travel to Liverpool.
- Once a decision has been made, the process of dealing with failed claimants needs strong restructuring. More information should be given to claimants regarding outcomes and a level of support should be maintained for failed applicants.
- The regionalisation of handling applications for Section 4 support would minimise the risk of their being slowly and incorrectly processed.
- Regionalisation of maternity payments payments would facilitate new mothers’ access to this support.
Download a copy of 21 Days Later: Application, Decision, Confusion, Deprivation, Destitution (pdf file, 3.4mb)