When support isn’t always supportive

1 October 2014
Jessica Kennedy

As part of our blog series looking at the isolation that our members face, This is how it feels to be lonely‘ , The Forum’s Mentoring Project Support Worker Heike Langbein explores the reality of trying to build a life in the UK, for just one of the hundreds of individuals that The Forum supports. 

[h3]Part 2: When support isn’t always supportive[/h3]

The Mentoring Project has been supporting Anna over the last couple of months. Anna is originally from Sierra Leone and has been living with her four children in an accommodation provided by the Home Office. She has been in receipt of section 4 support which entitled her to access accommodation and money to support her and her family whilst they were waiting to find out if they will be given asylum. Under section 4, money is given in form of vouchers and not in cash and asylum seekers pay with their Azure Card.

Last week I wrote about how Anna’s joy to be granted Discretionary Leave to Remain (DLR) in the UK turned sour when she was left stuck between section 4 support and welfare benefits following Home Office delays in issuing her Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). With help, Anna won that round and had 28 days to apply for support from the Department for Work and Pensions.

The Home Office loaded her Azure Card with credit for the time the judge determined she was entitled to section 4 support. Anna could buy food for her children. She managed the money responsibly and did not spend everything at once. One day in July, she went to the supermarket and could not pay for her groceries. The balance on her card was zero. She called me in distress since she thought that she had still £250 left on her card.

I phoned the National Asylum Support Line on her behalf. After several phone calls and a fax, I was told that the balance on Anna’s account was zero because her support was only reinstated for a certain period of time. It is the ‘responsibility of the section 4 recipient to ensure that they have used all of their funds by the support end date’. Therefore, Anna can’t carry her balance forward and her card was deactivated when the support stopped.

What was Anna’s mistake? Section 4 support is given to people who would otherwise be destitute, in the form of both vouchers to buy food and accommodation provided by the Home Office. When Anna received the right to stay in the UK, she received a letter from the Home Office stating that her section 4 support will be discontinued because she can apply for housing support and other welfare benefits like other British residents. She would be evicted from her house.  So that she and her children would not become homeless, Anna had applied for temporary accommodation from the local authority.

The National Asylum Support Service (NASS) explained to us that section 4 is both vouchers for food and accommodation – not one or the other. Anna would have only be entitled to further section 4 support, if she moved back to her previous accommodation. However, her local authority had already provided temporary accommodation for her. Why should she go through all the stress again and move back? Even more importantly, if she had done so, her local authority would have probably discharged their duty to provide temporary accommodation for her when she was once again evicted after another 28 days.

So Anna had no money to buy food and essential groceries for her or her children, and was still waiting for the Department for Work and Pensions to process her claim for benefits.

Anna’s case is full of contradictions and illustrates how the National Asylum Support Systems fails to provide for asylum seekers who come to the UK to seek protection. Furthermore, it shows how the Department for Work and Pensions and their delays make it difficult for refugees to settle down when they have been granted status. There are parallels with others in the UK who have been left stranded by changes to support payments, leaving support organisations to help people navigate a system that isn’t working.

One simple change in the system would have made a big difference to Anna: if her section 4 support had been given in cash and not in vouchers, she would have never been in the supermarket trying to pay with her azure card which was already deactivated. She would have been able to ‘carry forward’ the cash and spend it on food for her children and herself.

Read the first part of Anna’s story in Part 1….. You can read The Forum’s full report “This is how it feels to be lonely” here. There are more stories from The’s Forum’s members at ‘Their Dramatic Stories‘.

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