What is the estimated cost of supporting asylum seekers and how has it changed?
1. The overall cost of the asylum system is more than £1.3 billion. As part of this spending, the government is required by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (henceforth ‘the 1999 Act’) to provide housing and payments to certain eligible asylum seekers and failed claimants. The National Audit Office (NAO) has calculated that switching from the previous Compass accommodation contracts to the seven new housing and support contracts in 2019 has coincided with a 28% increase in costs, so that ‘in its first full year, the new service costs some £560 per month for each accommodated asylum seeker, compared with £437 under the last full year of Compass (2018)’. This, and the rising number of people supported, suggests a growing burden on the taxpayer, including a main provision for certain refused asylum seekers which the government repealed in 2016 but which has still not been implemented.
2. The total cost for both pending claimants and rejected applicants is estimated by Migration Watch UK – using the NAO figures cited above – to have risen:
- from just under £250 million to house and pay just under 47,500 people in 2018.
- to over £350 million for 53,000 people (year ending June 2020) – a rise of £100 million.
3. The total housed has risen even further since then as, in late September, a Home Office (HO) minister was reported as stating that the total being housed had risen to 60,000 during the Covid pandemic. However, it is also worth noting that the numbers especially in ‘initial accommodation’ were already rising in late 2019 as a result of increased illegal Channel arrivals. Detected arrivals have totalled 24,000 since the start of 2018. 98% of those detected arriving via this unauthorised route in 2020 claimed asylum (Home Office).
Support for failed asylum seekers = currently an estimated £130 million per year
4. Despite the fact that, as the Home Office (HO) stated in 2015, ‘there is no international obligation to support those refused asylum or other classes of illegal migrant… support is nonetheless provided to some categories of failed asylum seeker because of the way domestic legislation (that is the 1999 Act) [has been] framed’. Failed claimants may be eligible if they would otherwise be destitute and either face an obstacle to departure or have started judicial review proceedings (under Section 4). Alternatively, section 94(5) of the 1999 Act allows section 95 support to continue after the claim has been finally determined if the failed asylum seeker has with them a dependent child.
5. Despite a recent government refusal to confirm the number of failed asylum claimants who are housed / being paid under these provisions (and the cost), it is possible to make an estimate using:
a) The NAO estimates of cost per person per month noted above.
b) HO statistics on the change in the number of those supported under s95 / s4 of the 1999 Act and;
c) Figures regarding the 2014/15 cost of supporting failed claimants published by the government in 2015. Those supported under s98 are not included in our estimate.
6. The government stated that provision for rejected asylum claimants involved a total of 15,000 people in 2014/15 -10,100 of whom were being supported under Section 95 and 4,900 of whom were being supported under Section 4. This is 42% of the total of 35,300 people (including pending applicants) being supported under these provisions at the time. The cost of such support was stated by the government in 2015 to be £73 million. However, it is unclear whether this also includes staff and administration costs which totalled £60 million for both pending and failed claimants in 2014/15 (see 2016 Freedom of Information release). If we allocate this pro-rata to failed asylum seekers this gives a further £25.2 million. So together the basic cost of supporting failed asylum seekers in 2014/15 may have totalled £73 million but – if staff / administration costs are included on top of this – it may have come to just under £100 million in 2014/15.
7. To update these estimates to the year to June 2020, we assume the same proportion of those currently housed under s95 are failed asylum claimants as in 2014/15. This gives 14,000 in 2020. Adding in the 2020 total of nearly 5,400 currently receiving housing / payments under s4 leads to an estimate of 19,400. Attributing the NAO estimate of £560 per person per month, a figure which we assume to include the cost of staff and administration, suggests that supporting this number of failed asylum claimants is currently costing £130 million per year.
8. On this basis, the annual cost of supporting failed asylum seekers might well have risen by around £30 million since 2014/15.
9. The government says it does ‘not provide accommodation to illegal immigrants’ but this jars with the fact that the government continued to pay for housing and payments to people that the Home Office itself has described as ‘illegal migrants’, i.e. failed asylum seekers who have no right to be in the country. This was the case in December 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. It is worth noting that the main legislative provision governing support for failed asylum claimants was repealed in 2016, although this change in the law has yet to be implemented four years after the Act that brought about the reform received Royal Assent. In 2015 the government said of the statutory requirement to provide support for failed asylum seekers: “This is wrong in principle and sends entirely the wrong message to those migrants who do not require our protection but who may seek to exploit the system. It also undermines public confidence in our asylum system.”
10. We agree with this statement. The government should implement the law resulting from the repeal of section 4(2) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 forthwith. They must also toughen up enforcement if the flouting of our laws is not effectively to be encouraged at the cost of millions of pounds to the taxpayer.