New Clause 9 - Late claim for asylum: refusal of support: appeals

Part of Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 27th January 2004.

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Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism) 2:45 pm, 27th January 2004

I am not aware of those cases. If my hon. Friend wants to send me any information I will of course investigate them.

People do not just get one reconsideration—they can ask for one at any time. If their circumstances change, or if they really are destitute and could be regarded as coming close to the article 3 threshold, they can ask again for reconsideration. To asylum seekers, and to people trying to support them, the advice is: go back to the immigration and nationality directorate and ask for reconsideration. I have given a guarantee that that will be done within 24 hours, and if it is not, people will be put in emergency accommodation while it is done.

New clause 20 contains a very ingenious formulation. I know there is serious intent here, which I do not intend to diminish, but this formulation was very impressive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow found a very neat way of effectively excluding about 90 per cent. of the people who might otherwise be considered under section 55.

At present the 'clearly unfounded' certificate, which his amendment refers to, is mainly applied only to claims from people entitled to reside in the 24 states designated under section 94 of the 2002 Act. Only around 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. of asylum claims are made by such persons at the moment. Clearly some of those people would be able to demonstrate, as people do at the moment, that they had made their claim as soon as was reasonably practical within 72 hours. We would expect that number, which is 15 per cent. at the most, to diminish, so I reckon only around 10 per cent. of our current applicants would be eligible to have section 55 applied to them.

On a more serious note, my hon. Friend will probably not agree with me, but I simply ask him to accept that this is a serious measure, designed not to make people destitute, but to get them to change their behaviour by claiming at port, and helping us to investigate the traffickers by getting us information. It would be worthless if we could apply the measure to only 10 per cent. of cases.

New clause 10 relates to back payments of asylum support. The effect would be to express power for the National Asylum Support Service to pay back payments of asylum support where a claimant has not received a regular support payment. From a legal point of view, we do not need that amendment. Where we consider it is necessary and appropriate to make payments, we are satisfied that we have the legal power to do so.

The hon. Member for Winchester drew our attention to an important policy issue in this area and wanted some comment on it. Since last summer, we have not made any back payments of asylum support, and I shall take this opportunity to explain why, what has been happening, and when we expect the situation to be resolved, which, I accept, needs to happen quickly.

NASS-supported asylum seekers make claims for back payments in a wide variety of circumstances but there are two broad categories—first, where a payment was missed because of a mistake on the part of NASS, or secondly because of a mistake, or a failure to collect, or a failure to give information, on the part of an asylum seeker, although the actual range of circumstances can go beyond those. In any case, the key question is not whether NASS can make a back payment but whether it is required to do so.

When it was instituted, asylum support was meant to be paid out to relieve destitution week by week. In the interests of managing the asylum support budget as best I can, as it is now more than £1 billion, I am bound to ask the following question: so long as the payments have been switched back on and the asylum seeker is no longer in any risk of destitution, is it necessary to spend public money going back and ''filling in'' missed payments from previous weeks? I have asked officials for further advice, including legal advice, on that question. The key question is whether, and in what circumstances, asylum support payments must be regarded as a legal entitlement. I am trying to clarify that.