On Wednesday 09 April 2014 the High Court of England and Wales quashed a decision taken by the Secretary of State for the Home Department in June 2013 to freeze levels of support for asylum seekers. In his decision in Refugee Action, R (On the Application Of) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1033 (Admin) Mr Justice Popplewell has ordered the Secretary of State to reconsider her decision in light of this judgment. A deadline of 09 August 2014 has been given.
This is a very important victory for Refugee Action who instructed The Migrants’ Law Project in the action against the Secretary of State and will potentially affect all asylum seekers in the UK, if the Secretary of State does indeed now take action based on the findings of Mr Justice Popplewell.
Since June 2013, weekly cash support for adult asylum seekers under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 has been frozen at £36.62. This level of payment has been constant since April 2011, despite significant inflation and a real-term reduction in the value of that payment. Concerns have frequently been raised about levels of destitution faced by asylum seekers, particularly those with young children to support. Nevertheless, in the decision taken in June 2013, the Secretary of State asserted that the existing levels of support were adequate, and indeed made the claim that levels of support had risen by 11.5% in the previous 5 years. This was found to be wildly off the mark, to the extent that in real terms, support had actually decreased by 11%. Additionally, in reaching her decision, the Secretary of State had failed to consider a number of essential needs that asylum seekers have including travel costs to and from appointments with legal advisors and the costs of telephone contact with friends, family and representatives. Mr Justice Popplewell, held that the information used by the Secretary of State to set the rate of asylum support was simply insufficient to reach a rational decision to freeze rates.
Whilst asylum seekers should take heart from this decision, the matter is not quite over yet. A spokesman for the Secretary of State has already noted that she will be looking in to the possibility of appealing against the decision. If this happens, litigation could continue for a significant period of time, further prolonging the destitution faced by many.
An excellent summary has now been released by Refugee Action which provides further detail about the issues in the judgment – this can be accessed here.