Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Angela Eagle: I am slightly puzzled by what the hon. Gentleman said, as he did not make it clear what category of asylum seeker he was talking about. I can tell him the formal position. It is possible that a few have fallen through the net but I will need more information about their precise circumstances before I can reply to him.

I cannot support amendment No. 211. Placing a statutory requirement in the Bill is unnecessary because it is adequately covered in regulations and caseworking instructions. The amendment would mean that asylum seekers who could afford their rent and food and other essential items but could not afford their council tax or similar charges would be considered destitute. The current position is that when

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asylum seekers apply for asylum support and say that they wish to remain in their current accommodation, the Secretary of State, when considering whether they are destitute, will determine whether they can afford the costs in respect of their current accommodation and meet their other reasonable living expenses. That is covered by regulation 8 of the Asylum Support Regulations 2000, which does not apply to those applying from emergency accommodation provided under section 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. I can confirm that the costs of their existing accommodation can include council tax and other charges associated with rent such as service charges and utilities. That is set out in caseworking instructions.

Those who can meet their rent, food and other essential items but cannot pay their council tax could therefore be considered destitute. When it has been determined that a person cannot afford the costs of their accommodation he or she is invited to apply for National Asylum Support Service accommodation. The person's circumstances will be taken into account but the expectation is that accommodation will normally be provided in a dispersal area on a no-choice basis. The exception is when the case is a disbenefited family whose minor dependant children have attended a particular school for at least 12 months. In that case, in order to avoid disrupting the child's education we have made special arrangements with local authorities to pay the rent, utilities and council tax. In neither of those circumstances should bailiffs be chasing after individual asylum seekers.

I am also unable to support new clause 13. Asylum seekers provided with accommodation under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 are not liable for council tax, as the owners of the properties are liable. The National Asylum Support Service has contracts with property owners that take that fact into account. Thus, it is the property owner who pays the council tax when NASS has provided accommodation support, and certainly not the individual.

In addition, as a general rule NASS does not provide rent directly to the applicant. We have contracts with accommodation providers whom we pay directly, which is much easier and simpler. We can also make certain that the basic cost of the accommodation—the roof over someone's head—is paid in a timely fashion.

Those who are supported by local authorities under the interim provisions remain liable for council tax. Local authorities can provide the cost of an asylum seeker's council tax and claim it back from NASS as part of the usual grant funding arrangements. NASS has the discretion to grant fund such claims under section 110 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Therefore, the issues that the hon. Gentleman describes should not happen, unless there are circumstances that I have not covered, and I am unaware of any.

Mr. Allan: I suspect that it applies in the latter case, under the interim arrangements when the local authority has chosen not to fund the council tax, but there is a legal liability.

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Angela Eagle: Local authorities can claim it back: they do not have to fund the council tax. They should get their act together, and have the council tax liabilities for those in the interim scheme paid back to them. Asylum seekers should not be chased by bailiffs for council tax liabilities.

Mr. Allan: I am grateful to the Minister for her clear statement on the record of the Government's position in respect of council tax for asylum seekers. That is what we were seeking to tease out. I am sure that those who read the record of our debates and who deal with individuals in citizens advice bureaux or law centres will be in touch with us and/or the Minister if they feel that there are additional cases that we have not covered. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 120, in page 19, line 17, leave out 'or assets which are' and insert 'which is'.

No. 121, in page 19, line 19, at end insert—

    '( ) enable or require the Secretary of State in deciding whether a person is destitute to have regard to assets of a prescribed kind which he or a dependant of his has or might reasonably be expected to have;'.

No. 122, in page 19, line 20, at end insert—

    '(5A) The following shall be substituted for section 96(1)(b) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c.33) (ways of providing support)—

    ''(b) by providing the supported person and his dependants (if any) with food and other essential items;''.

    (5B) In section 97 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c.33) (support: supplemental)—

    (a) in subsection (4) for ''essential living needs'' there shall be substituted ''food and other essential items'',

    (b) in subsection (5) for ''essential living needs'' there shall be substituted ''food and other essential items'', and

    (c) in subsection (6) for ''living needs'' there shall be substituted ''items''.'.—[Angela Eagle.]

11.30 am

Angela Eagle: I beg to move amendment No. 248, in page 19, line 34, at end insert—

    '( ) The following shall be substituted for section 12(2B) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 (c.49) (general social welfare services of local authorities—exclusion of destitute asylum seeker: interpretation)—

    ''(2B) Section 95(3) to (8) of that Act shall apply for the purposes of subsection (2A) of this section; and for that purpose a reference to the Secretary of State in section 95(5) or (6) shall be treated as a reference to a local authority.''.

    ( ) The following shall be substituted for section 13A(5) of that Act (provision of residential accommodation with nursing—exclusion of destitute asylum seeker: interpretation)—

    ''(5) Section 95(3) to (8) of that Act shall apply for the purposes of subsection (4) of this section; and for that purpose a reference to the Secretary of State in section 95(5) or (6) shall be treated as a reference to a local authority.''.

    ( ) The following shall be substituted for section 13B(4) of that Act (Provision of care and after-care—exclusion of destitute asylum seeker: interpretation)—

    ''(4) Section 95(3) to (8) of that Act shall apply for the purposes of subsection (3) of this section; and for that purpose a reference to the Secretary of State in section 95(5) or (6) shall be treated as a reference to a local authority.''.'.

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The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 123 and 249.

Angela Eagle: Again, these minor technical amendments are consequential on changes that the Bill makes to section 95(3) to (8) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Amendments Nos. 248 and 249 make comparable changes to the Scottish legislation that is equivalent to the National Assistance Act 1948, the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 and the National Health Service Act 1977. Amendment No. 123 does the equivalent for Northern Ireland legislation. Taken together, the amendments will ensure that the current position is maintained. Given their highly technical nature, I hope that the Committee will easily accept them.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 123, in page 19, line 41, at end insert—

    '( ) The following shall be substituted for Article 7(3A) of the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 (S.I. 1972/1265 (N.I. 14)) (prevention of illness, care and after-care: exclusion of asylum-seeker: interpretation)—

    ''(3A) Section 95(3) to (8) of that Act shall apply for the purpose of paragraph (3); and for that purpose a reference to the Secretary of State in section 95(5) or (6) shall be treated as a reference to the Department.''

    ( ) The following shall be substituted for Article 15(7) of that Order (general social welfare: exclusion of destitute asylum-seeker: interpretation)—

    ''(7) Section 95(3) to (8) of that Act shall apply for the purpose of paragraph (6); and for that purpose a reference to the Secretary of State in section 95(5) or (6) shall be treated as a reference to the Department.''.'.

No. 249, in page 19, line 41, at end insert—

    '( ) The following shall be substituted for section 7(4) of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 (c.36) (functions of local authorities—exclusion of destitute asylum seeker: interpretation)—

    ''(4) Section 95(3) to (8) of that Act shall apply for the purposes of subsection (3) of this section; and for that purpose a reference to the Secretary of State in section 95(5) or (6) shall be treated as a reference to a local authority.''.

    ( ) The following shall be substituted for section 8(5) of that Act (provision of after-care services—exclusion of destitute asylum seeker: interpretation)—

    ''(5) Section 95(3) to (8) of that Act shall apply for the purposes of subsection (4) of this section; and for that purpose a reference to the Secretary of State in section 95(5) or (6) shall be treated as a reference to a local authority''.'.—[Angela Eagle.]

Clause 35, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 36

Young asylum-seeker

Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 260, in page 20, line 1, at end add—

    '(2) The financial support made available as a result of subsection (1) shall be paid in advance and support for children over 16 shall be set at the same level as those for children under 16'.

We have debated the support for young asylum seekers many times in discussing special grant reports for local authorities, which is how the system has worked to date, and there are general concerns about that. The amendment would make equivalent the payment levels for those who are under 16 and those who are 16 and 17. We have often discussed the levels

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at which the grants were set, and the rate was significantly higher for those under 16, who have cost the local authority up to £400 a week. The local authority still has responsibility for those individuals. There has been a lower rate for those aged 16 and 17, although they are still assessed as children.

There is a good reason for funding 16 and 17-year-olds at a rate equivalent to that for those under 16: at the current rate, it is difficult for local authorities to provide individuals in the older age group with the entire package. We understand that the new system will involve direct payment. Quite a significant number of individuals enter the system at that age.

I know that questions have been raised about the validity of dates of birth and so on, but it seems reasonable to suggest that unaccompanied individuals of that age will seek asylum. They may be able to travel more independently, and the problems from which asylum claims result often affect young men in that age group. In military and conflict situations, young men are frequently the target. Those individuals will be most caught up in such a situation, whether a Government agency is removing them from communities or anyone else is seeking to sign them up to a military force. There is a pattern of people of that age seeking asylum, and local authorities have a particular duty and responsibility to care for them, so the funding level should be set appropriately for the individuals affected. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response on the logic of separating out the payments and the levels to be set under the new system of direct payment as opposed to the special grant support system of the past.

 
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