Due to a change in supplier, the cards that asylum seekers receive their £39.63 weekly allowance on were switched last week. We advised the asylum seekers we support that they needed to take money out because there were a few days between the old cards stopping working and the new cards being activated. At this point, we realised there were serious problems with the switch, because every family had at least one new card that was in the wrong name. One family that hadn’t recieved any cards in their names were told by Migrant Help (the customer service arm of the Home Office) that it would take a further 10 days to receive the correct cards. Thankfully we’re there to support them with cash if need be and can arrange Chichester Food Bank boxes, but there are lots of people newly arrived in the UK and newly dispersed around the UK who will not be able to access any support. By the time they realise they can’t withdraw cash and they call Migrant Help, they could be left without any money for food for significantly more than 10 days.
We reported the situation to The Guardian, who had heard from another charity about it and decided to cover it in this article. It turned out to be a nationwide mess, with delays and problems with new cards.
If people who are banned from working and have no cash reserves (i.e. almost all asylum seekers) and no support network to fall back on suddenly have no income, they very quickly become vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation and abuse, especially if they have children to feed.
Another aspect to this is that we and our volunteers already provide a huge amount of support to refugees and asylum seekers because the government provision is woefully inadequate, so our financial and human resources are stretched – having to clear up Home Office messes puts a real strain on the voluntary sector organisations the government relies on to fill the officially recognised gaps in their provision, e.g. for the Refugee Resettlement schemes.
By Gemma Driver