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 3:00 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) 3:00 pm, 27th January 2004

Thank you.

New clause 12 would allow individuals applying under the immigration rules for indefinite leave to remain as the victims of domestic violence to have recourse to public funds. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Winchester for acknowledging what I and other Ministers have done on several fronts for victims of domestic violence who are in an immigration situation, but the new clause asks us to go a stage further. We have made significant progress. First, on the need for support, we have ensured that domestic violence victims in such circumstances can gain access to supporting people-funded domestic violence services, such as refuges and housing-related support services. The supporting people initiative is a partnership of local government, service users, support agencies and voluntary organisations. The programme offers people who are vulnerable, for whatever reason, the opportunity to receive support in particular circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the supporting people initiative does not necessarily cover rent costs or living expenses. My colleague Baroness Scotland is continuing to talk to voluntary organisations and others that run refuges. I cannot say at the moment whether a further step has been taken on that front, but the supporting people provisions are a big step forward because they mean that a woman in such circumstances will have somewhere to go and will receive support under that programme. The voluntary

organisations that provide refuges and work with women who are the victims of domestic violence are certainly ready to provide that support. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill will also further strengthen the rights of victims and witnesses, ensuring that they receive the support and help that they need.

As the hon. Member for Winchester acknowledged and the new clause recognises, the immigration rules now make specific provision for an application to be made on that basis. Where an application for settlement on the basis of domestic violence is successful, people are exempt from the fee for processing such applications that is a consequence of the introduction of charges. Finally, I have extended the types of evidence that can be used as proof of violence and relaxed the regulations relating to the forms of evidence that can be produced.

I hope that hon. Members accept that that set of four measures makes great progress in the way in which women who have unresolved immigration status but who are subjected to domestic violence by a man they have come here to marry can get practical help and support. They will find it easier to establish that there has been domestic violence because of the changes. We will continue to examine what is the best way of assisting victims of domestic violence.

The new clause does not offer a sensible way to proceed. Hon. Members have alluded to the problem: we are trying to strike a balance, and if we were to agree to the new clause, the perverse incentive to some people to use the provision to claim to be victims of domestic violence as a means of having their immigration situation resolved would be too great.

As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) said, new clause 21 would mean that particular groups of people would be ineligible to receive benefits in cash or kind other than in certain listed circumstances, such as for treatment of infectious disease and in response to a health emergency. The new clause targets two classes of people; failed asylum-seeking families whose support would be withdrawn under clause 7, and nationals of the European economic area whose countries do not provide a level of service or benefit to UK nationals broadly equivalent to that which they receive here—and, further, who have been resident in the UK for less than 12 months.

I am particularly concerned that we should not enable people to benefit-shop—to go round successive European countries trying to get access to benefits in different nations. We have put in place a system to deal with benefit shopping and to ensure that those whose asylum claims have been rejected and who have exhausted their appeal rights are not entitled to support indefinitely. Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 prohibits support under a number of different provisions to particular classes of person: those who have refugee status abroad; citizens of other EEA states; failed asylum-seekers who do not comply with removal directions; and other people who are unlawfully in the UK. Furthermore, support for child-free adult asylum seekers will be withdrawn 21 days after their asylum

claim has been determined. Therefore, we have a range of measures to deal with people who might seek to benefit-shop.

There has been considerable recent press interest in the position of EU accession states. We had a debate about that on a previous occasion, and I want to re-emphasise the point that I made then, which is that non-working EU nationals can claim income-related benefits only if they satisfy in this country the habitual residence test. Each claimant's circumstances are carefully examined to ensure that tax-funded benefits are paid only to people with reasonably close ties to the UK. The factors to be considered in making that decision include the reason for coming to the UK, the length of stay, future intentions and any previous links with the country. We introduced that test to deal with benefit tourism.

In order to comply with our international obligations, the test has to be applied on a non-discriminatory basis. The hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) mentioned the reciprocity in the agreements between member states, which means that UK citizens are entitled to benefits, provided that they satisfy certain conditions. In principle, EU nationals are entitled to the same benefits here, provided that they meet our conditions, one of which is the habitual residence test.

In summary, the thrust of our asylum and immigration reforms is to create a robust system. I do not think that the UK is a soft touch. I was grateful for the conclusion in the report published yesterday by the Home Affairs Select Committee, which said it is not true that the UK is a soft touch on the benefits front—or any other front in the asylum system—and that that view should not be propagated.