Fifty charities urge Home Ministry to act on asylum support payments ‘crisis’
Home Office urged to act as hundreds of asylum seekers were unable to afford food and basic supplies after their financial support was cut off due to a transfer of botched contract.
Letter to Interior Minister Priti Patel signed by 50 refugee and asylum organizations describes the situation as “one of the worst asylum crises we have ever known” and accuses a senior interior minister for misleading MPs this week by claiming the matter was resolved.
Thousands of asylum seekers stopped receiving their weekly living allowances on May 24 after their Aspen cards – a form of debit card issued to asylum seekers so they could purchase basic supplies – ceased to work.
Single mothers with babies and young children said The independent as a result, they either go hungry or have had to rely on charities for their basic food supply.
The letter, whose signatories include the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the Scottish Refugee Council, warns that “entire families are left without money for food” and that charities have been “plunged into a full-scale crisis. trying to keep up. one emergency after another ”.
“This ongoing crisis must be resolved immediately. Small charities cannot continue to fill service gaps caused by poor administration of the Home Office and its contractors. Since May 25, there has been no explanation as to how this crisis came about, ”the letter said.
The issue arose following a transfer of the Home Office’s Aspen card contract from facilities management company Sodexo to fintech company Prepaid Financial Services, which meant that asylum seekers had to receive new payment cards.
But it emerged two days after the transfer that a large part of the population had not received the new cards. In many cases, the cards have been sent to the wrong addresses – sometimes to properties or hotels that the person has moved to months ago.
Almost three weeks later, while many have now received their Aspen cards, hundreds, if not thousands, still do not. Charities say that although the Home Office has made emergency cash payments to those affected, many are still waiting to receive them.
Migrant Help, a charity hired by the Home Office to provide support services to asylum seekers, has been inundated with phone calls from people unable to access money, with people having to wait for hours trying to reach their helpline.
The Home Office has repeatedly dismissed the concerns, saying the problem is affecting “a small number of people”.
Asked Monday about the matter by the Public Accounts Committee, Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft told MPs there had been an “error” on the map which “lasted for a short period of time. […] but it is now resolved.
Charities accused the official of misleading the committee, saying the refugee organizations “are still operating in a crisis”.
Meanwhile, when Immigration Minister Chris Philp was asked about the matter in the House of Commons on Thursday morning, he said: “There have been delays which are being quickly resolved.
“The cost of asylum assistance now stands at £ 1 billion a year, so any suggestion that there is a lack of generosity or wickedness is categorically and utterly wrong. “
The letter exposes the extent of the problem in different parts of the country based on what charities have reported.
Barnet’s New Citizens Gateway reports that in four hotels in the city, 268 asylum seekers did not receive their cards and 38 received it but are not working.
The Welsh Refugee Council meanwhile said it had received 560 requests for support on Aspen card issues in the four dispersal areas of Wales, while Positive Action in Housing in Glasgow received around 400 emergency calls. with the help of people unable to access money.
The Jesuit Refugee Service says it was contacted by 15 men currently housed at Napier Barracks who had not received their new Aspen cards the week after the change, while Brighton Migrant Solidarity says around 100 asylum seekers have had struggling to activate the card or did not receive it. .
The letter to Ms Patel asks how many asylum seekers are affected by the problem in the UK, whether they will be in arrears and what caused the problems.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The vast majority of asylum seekers supported were able to activate their new Aspen cards before the service went live, or have managed to activate them since.
“We are aware that a small number of asylum seekers still encounter difficulties in using their card. We support them with cash payments and emergency vouchers, and issue replacement cards if necessary. “
A spokesperson for Prepaid Financial Services said the company had “worked closely with the Home Office to prepare for the switchover,” adding: “The majority of service users have successfully activated and are using their cards.” .
A spokesperson for Migrant Help said he was “working hard” to help those affected and apologized to those who had long wait times when they called his helpline, adding that the demand remained “extremely high” and additional staff had been assigned to answer calls.