2. Memorandum from the National Association
of Citizens Advice Bureaux
Thank you for your letter of 23 April, inviting our
comments on the human rights implications of the above Bill.
I attach our briefing to MPs for the Committee stage
of the Bill in the House of Commons, which sets out our principal
concerns. To our mind, the following provisions of the Bill are
particularly likely to have human rights implications:
Part 2 - accommodation centres
In effect, residence in the proposed asylum accommodation
centres will be compulsory, with those who refuse to accept the
'offer' of a place being disqualified from all other forms of
welfare support; for destitute or soon-to-be destitute asylum
seekers, this will not be much of a choice. Furthermore, the children
of residents will be denied access to local educational services,
and the proposed location and residency conditions of the pilot
accommodation centres lead us to conclude that residents will
in practice have little or no access to other local services (such
as legal advice providers) and little if any ability to engage
in purposeful activity off-site. With some regretwe were
initially somewhat attracted to the idea of accommodation centreswe
have concluded that, all in all, the accommodation centres as
proposed will in fact be de facto detention centres.
Clause 34 - asylum seeker: form of support
The proposed denial of all support to those who decline
to accept dispersal by NASS to the regions appears to us to raise
issues around the right to family life. In our experience, many
of those who opt for subsistence support only do so because they
are disabled, are pregnant or with a new-born child, or are suffering
serious illness, and wish to remain with family or friends who
can help them to deal with their situation.
Clause 48 - bail
As we understand it, the provisions of Part III of
the 1999 Act were devised to ensure compliance with Article 5
of the ECHR, and it is deeply regrettable that these provisions
have never been implemented. The fact that the number of asylum
seekers held in detention has increased substantially since 1999
cannot in anyway justify the abolition of a much needed legal
safeguard against the possibility of arbitrary and unlawful detention.
On the contrary, the case of implementation of Part III grows
with the opening of every new detention centre. Compliance with
basic human rights norms does not always come cheap, let alone
free, but if detention of asylum seekers is genuinely used only
where demonstrably necessary to ensure removal, then we can see
no reason why routine bail hearings, as provided for in Part III
of the 1999 Act, would significantly interfere with the efficiency
or efficacy of the asylum determination and removal processes.
This briefing has been prepared for the Committee
stage of the Nationality, Immigration & Asylum Bill in the
House of Commons, and should be read in conjunction with our briefing
for the Second Reading of the Bill on 24 April 2002, and our response
to the February 2002 White Paper Secure borders, safe haven.
We have a number of serious reservations and concerns
about the Bill's provisions in respect of:
centres (Part 2);
other support and assistance for asylum
seekers (Part 3), and
the repeal of Part III of the Immigration
& Asylum Act 1999, the very welcome but still not implemented
provisions in respect of bail rights for detained asylum seekers
Immigration and Asylum Appeals (Part
Part 2 - Accommodation Centres
Having previously adopted a cautiously positive stance
on the proposal to establish asylum accommodation centres,
we are deeply disappointed by Part 2 of the Bill. The details
of the proposed legislation appear to us to provide for the establishment
of de facto detention centres.
Not only does the Bill provide for the exclusion
of resident children from local educational services, but those
needy asylum seekers who refuse the offer of a place in an accommodation
centre or breach their conditions of residence will not qualify
for other forms of support (such as NASS dispersal accommodation
and subsistence support). These concerns are heightened by the
fact that most of the eight sites shortlisted for the four pilot
centres are in rural or semi-rural locations.
In short, residence will be compulsory (the only
choice being for asylum seekers to go without welfare support
of any kind), and residents will largely be confined to the centre,
with little or no access to local services and little if any ability
to engage in purposeful activity off-site.
In our view, asylum accommodation centres should
be of modest capacity, should be located within or at least close
to centres of population, and should provide residents both with
effective access to local services and with ample opportunity
to engage in purposeful activity off-site. Independent legal advice
and representation should be provided on-site, but residents must
also have free access to off-site providers of such advice and
Even if the pilot accommodation centres are judged
to be a success, it will be many years before more than a tiny
proportion of all needy asylum seekers can be accommodated in
such centres. The latest available information indicates that,
in addition to the more than 65,000 asylum seekers and dependants
currently supported by NASS, some 55,000 asylum seekers and dependants
remain supported by local authorities (under interim provisions
due to expire by April 2002 but now extended to April 2004), and
a further 12,000 asylum seekers (plus dependants) remain supported
by the mainstream welfare benefits system.
Accordingly, with a proposed 3,000 places in total
the pilot centres would accommodate just two per cent of all needy
asylum seekers and dependants at any one time (i.e. considerably
less than the "ten per cent" claimed by Ministers).
This means that it is essential to address the failings of NASS,
which will continue to be the main provider of welfare support
to asylum seekers for many years to come, whatever the outcome
of the pilot.
Part 3 - Other Support and Assistance
For the foreseeable future the vast majority of needy
asylum seekers will be accommodated and/or supported by NASS.
We are therefore deeply disappointed by the absence from the Bill
of any significant measures to improve the NASS-administered support
system, which remains characterised by extreme delay and error
on the part of NASS, compounded by the inaccessibility of NASS
to both supported asylum seekers and their advisers.
The Government has dismissed our February 2002 reportProcess
error: CAB clients' experience of the National Asylum Support
Serviceas evidence only of "past problems"
in the performance of NASS that no longer persist. However, the
ongoing experience of CABx suggests that these problems have not
yet been remedied, and that NASS' service standards remain unacceptably
low. An annex to this briefing sets out four case examples from
the current or recent caseload of CABx (please contact NACAB for
On the basis of the extensive experience of CABx
since April 2000, we believe that it is essential for NASS to
establish adequate local 'drop-in' services for supported asylum
seekers, so as to provide a responsive and accessible service
at a local level. In the dispersal areas (and other areas
with a high density of NASS supported asylum seekers), these services
should be provided from dedicated NASS outlets, but in other areas
they could, for example, take the form of a regular NASS clinic
in local Benefits Agency offices.
Clause 34 - asylum seeker: form of support
We strongly oppose Clause 34, which provides for
a power to make regulations restricting the provision of NASS
subsistence support to those dispersed to NASS accommodation.
In other words, Clause 34 would abolish the current option of
applying for (and receiving) NASS subsistence support only (i.e.
without receiving, upon dispersal, NASS provided accommodation).
This would not only be unfair and unjust, but would
almost certainly prove to be counter productive. In some cases,
it would result in the undesirable separation of asylum seekers
from friends or relatives able to accommodate but not financially
support them, causing unnecessary distress to the asylum seekers
concerned and increased accommodation costs to NASS.
In other cases, Clause 34 could result in the denial
of all welfare support to those asylum seekers who, for perfectly
understandable reasons (such as, for example, their disability,
serious illness or pregnancy), prefer to stay with friends or
relatives rather than be dispersed. This would cause economic
hardship to all those concerned, increase poverty and social exclusion,
and thus undermine the Government's wider strategy for refugee
Almost 40 per cent of the more than 65,000 asylum
seekers and dependants currently supported by NASS have opted
to receive subsistence support only.
Accordingly, the number of individuals who would be adversely
affected by Clause 34 is substantial.
We urge the deletion of Clause 34.
Clause 37: Failed asylum seeker
We welcome Clause 37, which provides additional powers
to support failed asylum seekers pending removal. Currently, the
scope for NASS to provide support to such individuals is extremely
Clause 43: International projects
Inter alia, Clause 43
provides a power for the Home Secretary to establish a refugee
resettlement programme, under which an apparently very small number
of persons recognised as refugees whilst still abroad could be
accepted for resettlement in the UK.
We would welcome the establishment of such a resettlement
programme, so long as it did not lead to the emergence of a two-tier
asylum determination process, with those who arrive at the UK's
borders independently being regarded as 'queue-jumpers' and therefore
'undeserving' of the UK's protection, whatever the merits of their
asylum claim. Unambiguous assurances on this point should be
sought from Ministers during the Committee stage.
Part 4 - Detention & Removal
Clause 47: Detention centres: change of name
The proposed re-naming of immigration detention centres
as 'removal centres' is inappropriate and would cause unnecessary
confusion and anxiety on the part of many detainees. Most of those
asylum seekers detained under Immigration Act powers at any one
time are still awaiting either an initial decision on their asylum
by the Home Office IND or the outcome of an appeal to the IAA.
Clearly, in the vast majority of such cases, removal is not an
We urge the deletion of Clause 47.
Since 1997, the Home Office has repeatedly declined
to issue the statistics on this point that were issued frequently
under the previous government. Ministers should be asked to
provide such statistics during the Committee stage.
Clause 48: Bail
We are appalled by Clause 48(6), which largely repeals
Part III of the Immigration & Asylum Act 1999 - the very welcome
but still not implemented provisions in respect of automatic and
routine bail hearings for detained asylum seekers. The implementation
of these provisions is essential to ensure compliance with Article
5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the CAB Service
has repeatedly urged the Government to bring them into force as
a matter of urgency. The fact that the number of asylum seekers
being held in detention has increased substantially since 1999
does not in any way justify the abolition of a much needed legal
remedy against arbitrary and unlawful detention.
If detention of asylum seekers is genuinely used
only where demonstrably necessary to ensure removal, then
there is no reason to believe that routine bail hearings, as provided
for in Part III of the 1999 Act, would significantly interfere
with the efficiency or efficacy of the asylum determination and
removal processes. We note that, on second reading of the Bill,
both the Home Secretary and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State indicated that the provisions of Part III of the 1999
Act have been used to frustrate or delay the removal of failed
asylum seekers. This is patently not the case, as the provisions
have never been implemented and thus cannot have been so 'exploited'.
We urge the deletion of Clause 48(6).
Clause 49: Reporting restrictions: travel expenses
We welcome Clause 49, which will allow NASS to meet
the reasonable travel costs of supported asylum seekers who are
required to travel to a reporting centre so as to comply with
a reporting requirement imposed by IND.
Clause 50: Induction
Whilst we welcome and support the new policy emphasis
on inducting asylum seekers into the support and determination
processes, we are not convinced that the proposed 'induction centres'
and associated processes, as currently being piloted in Dover,
offer more than marginal improvements on the existing, emergency
Ministers have described the proposed 'induction
centre' processes as "the key to increasing the efficacy
and effectiveness" of the asylum support system as a whole.
However, we struggle to see how four briefings of 30-45 minutes
each, a medical check and an on-site means test will significantly
improve the overall efficiency of a system that, as noted above,
remains characterised by delay and error on the part of NASS,
compounded by the acute inaccessibility of NASS to both supported
asylum seekers and their advisers.
Furthermore, we are deeply disturbed by the new requirement
on asylum seekers (not in the Bill) to sign a declaration that
they understand the asylum determination and support processes,
and their obligations under those processes, before they
leave the 'induction centre'. We are particularly concerned that
asylum seekers are likely to be asked to sign the declaration
before having access to independent legal advice, which is not
provided on-site in the Dover 'induction centre'. The Government
has not justified or explained the purpose of this requirement.
The Government has stated that "at present" there are
no consequences of a refusal to comply.
However, we fear that a signed declaration may be used to justify
action detrimental to the individual concerned at a later date
(for example, following a minor transgression of reporting or
residency conditions, or an omission due to inadequate explanation,
or poor understanding of what are very complex rules). Ministers
should be asked to provide firm assurances about the purposes
and use of the signed declaration during the Committee stage.
Part 5 - Immigration and Asylum Appeals
The fact that further substantial changes to the
immigration and asylum appeal systems are seemingly under consideration
without being set out in the Bill makes it difficult for us to
comment meaningfully on this Part of the Bill.
However, we would like to draw attention to one matter raised
by the Home Secretary's statement on Second Reading on 24 April:
family visitor appeals.
The CAB Service has consistently opposed the fees
charged to appellants under the (otherwise very welcome) family
visitor appeal mechanism established in October 2000.
We therefore warmly welcome the Home Secretary's announcement,
on 24 April, of the 'abolition' of these fees.
In our view, the fees were racially discriminatory and thus wrong
in principle, and could not be justified on any administrative,
financial or other grounds.
However, as we understand it, the 'abolition' of
the fees will be effected by Regulations only, leaving the power
to impose such fees intact (s.60(6)(a) of the Immigration &
Asylum Act 1999). We are urging the Government to bring forward
an amendment to Part 5 of the Bill that would repeal s.60(6) of
the 1999 Act, and would welcome the support of members of the
Annex: NASS-related cases from the recent caseload
NACAB has recently submitted the following cases
to ministers for investigation by NASS.
The asylum voucher supply of a single Somali woman
who sought assistance from Manchester Central CAB on 24 October
2001 had run out on 16 October 2001. Despite repeated interventions
by the bureau over the next five months, the client's supply of
regular vouchers was not restored until 8 March 2002. On one occasion
a NASS official claimed that the client had "left the country",
on another the adviser was put on hold for 50 minutes before giving
up, and on numerous others the bureau was told that vouchers would
be sent out to the client "within five days". Throughout
this period, the client received no welfare support and was financially
supported by relatives.
In early January 2002 the client gave birth but,
as of 12 April, she had still not received any additional vouchers
for her child; the bureau has had to make three separate 'change
of circumstances' applications for these vouchers, with NASS officials
claiming not to have received the first two applications, despite
these having been both faxed and posted to NASS.
An Afghani man who sought advice from Oldham CAB
on 22 February 2002 was in possession of a NASS Form 60, dated
18 January 2002, stating that his earlier application for NASS
accommodation and subsistence support had been accepted; however,
he had not yet received any regular vouchers. After first claiming
that the client had been granted Exceptional Leave to Remain and
therefore no longer qualified for support, NASS insisted that
the client submit a fresh application for support; this was done
on 6 March, but as of 12 April NASS had not responded and the
client remained without vouchers.
A Yugoslavian single mother with two young children
who sought assistance from Stoke-on-Trent CAB on 18 January 2002
had been dispersed from London and placed in NASS accommodation
in October 2001, but had since not received any regular vouchers.
Despite repeated interventions by the bureau over the next six
weeks, it was not until 8 March that NASS insisted that the client
submit a fresh application for support, resulting in the client
going without regular vouchers until 10 April.
A 70-year-old Somali man who sought assistance from
Kentish Town CAB on 22 January 2002the day after NASS introduced
new arrangements allowing for Benefits Agency staff to fax requests
for missing Form 35s to NASShad been granted Exceptional
Leave to Remain in September 2001 and had had his NASS support
terminated on 5 November. However, he had still not received a
Form 35 from NASS and the Benefits Agency, seemingly unaware of
the new arrangements, was refusing to process his application
for welfare benefits.
Over the next few weeks, the bureau contacted NASS
on seven separate occasions, and on each occasion was told that
a Form 35 would be sent out to the client. However, on 12 March,
NASS claimed that a Form 35 had been sent out and signed for in
November. The client states categorically that he did not receive
the Form 35 and, as of 12 April, NASS had not responded to the
bureau's request for a copy of the alleged signature of receipt.
153 See: The CAB Service's response to the February
2002 White Paper on immigration, nationality & asylum,
NACAB, March 2002; and Refugees and asylum seekers: a CAB Service
briefing, NACAB, October 2001 Back
Source: Hansard, House of Commons, 15 April 2002, col.
As at 31 December 2001, NASS was supporting a total of 65,630
asylum seekers and their dependants, of whom 25,310 were receiving
subsistence support only. Source: Asylum Statistics: 4th
Quarter 2001, Home Office, February 2002 Back
"At the moment, there is an automatic right [to a] bail
hearing ¼ it has therefore been used as a method of ensuring
that people could avoid being held temporarily while their removal
from the country was being organized", David Blunkett, MP,
24 April 2002, col. 358; "Automatic bail hearings ¼
interfere with our attempts to achieve a fast and efficient process
and ¼ are simply another cause of delay", Angela Eagle,
MP, 24 April 2002, col. 431 Back
Angela Eagle MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, House
of Commons (Westminster Hall), 12 March 2002, col. 246WH Back
Hansard, House of Commons, 18 April 2002, col. 1167w Back
See: 'Notes to editors' in Home Office news release 093/2002,
12 April 2002 Back
For further information, see: Family visitor appeals: the
first year, NACAB, December 2001; Family visitor appeals:
the first eight months, NACAB, July 2001; and Family visitor
appeals: parliamentary briefing, NACAB, October 2000 Back
House of Commons, 24 April 2002, col. 356 Back