UK Visas and Immigration

How do people apply for asylum?

Asylum seekers make claims through UK Visas and Immigration which is part of the Home Office. They should either apply at the port of entry, or at the Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon.

Applications can be made under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or as a “human rights claim” under the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR contains a number of ‘Articles’ of protected rights. Most human rights claims are based on Article 3 (prohibition on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) or Article 8 (right to respect for family life and private life).

Asylum claims should be made as soon as an asylum seeker arrives in the UK, or as soon as they become aware that it would be unsafe for them to return to their own country. Late claims are more likely to be denied.

What happens next?

After initial screening, asylum seekers are allocated a case worker and given an Asylum Registration Card as evidence of their claim. They then need to attend an Asylum Interview. They may submit written evidence in advance of the interview. Asylum seekers may sometimes be detained. A decision on their claim should normally be made within 6 months. The standard of proof for asylum claims is whether there is a “reasonable degree of likelihood” or “real risk” of persecution.

Asylum Help UK

The British Refugee Council and Asylum Help UK provide advice services to asylum seekers and refugees.  Through this independent helpline, asylum seekers get free legal advice and representation help by phone if they are an asylum applicant or refugee and need advice about the asylum process or adapting to life in the UK.   Asylum Help UK helpline services replaced the existing one-stop shop and wrap-around services.

Asylum Help also helps to provide help nationally for destitute asylum seekers to complete applications for asylum support, including accommodation.  Please see https://www.gov.uk/asylum-helplines

The helpline can be used:

  • By all asylum seekers, even if they have a just  arrived in the UK;
  • If they have just received a decision on their asylum application;
  • If they have been successful in their application and are building a new life in the UK.


The asylum helplines can help with:

  • housing problems
  • dealing with agencies, e.g. social services
  • finding English language classes
  • questions about asylum support
  • getting legal representation
  • finding schools
  • building a life in the UK if they are given permission to stay in the UK
    returning home

They may also be able to help if they are:

  • threatened or harmed by someone because of their race
  • threatened or harmed by a member of their  family
  • the victim of a crime
  • a witness to a crime

Charities run the helplines. They don’t make decisions on asylum applications.

Contact details for the helplines:

Asylum Help UK
Tel: 0808 8000 630
Monday to Friday, 8am – 5:30pm
(Limited service at other times)

Asylum Support Application UK
Tel: 0808 8000 631
Monday to Friday, 8am – 5:30pm
(Limited service at other times)
Asylum Support Application UK is for asylum seekers that can’t support themselves financially and want to apply for asylum support

Children’s Panel (England only)
Tel: 0808 8080 500
Monday to Friday, 8am – 5:30pm
(Limited service at other times)
The British Refugee Council operates a children’s panel to support unaccompanied children seeking asylum (England only)


What accommodation and support is provided?

While asylum seekers are awaiting a decision on their claim, the Home Office provides (Section 95) accommodation and support. They have no choice about where they are sent, and may be dispersed to a different part of the country from where they arrived. In the North West, Serco has the Home Office contract to provide accommodation and support to dispersed asylum seekers. The support provided is limited but includes, for example, signposting to essential services like registering with a GP, getting children into school and the location of the nearest post office.

How much money do asylum seekers get?

Asylum seekers collect money from a local post office each week. This is for essentials like food, clothing and toiletries. They receive £36.95 for each person in the household per week. There are extra sums for pregnant mothers (£3), babies under 1 year old (£5) and children aged 1 to 3 (£3).

What services can asylum seekers access?

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work.  They get free National Health Service (NHS) healthcare (e.g. to see a doctor, get hospital treatment, and free prescriptions).  Asylum seeker children must attend school if they are aged 5 to 17, and children may be able to get free school meals.

What happens when asylum claims fail?

Asylum seekers whose claim is refused can apply for an administrative review. They are sometimes able to appeal to an Immigration and Asylum Tribunal, or to make a fresh claim if new evidence has become available.

Asylum seekers who have exhausted their rights of appeal are expected to make arrangements to leave the country. The voluntary assisted return and reintegration programme (VARRP) is the UK’s voluntary return programme for those in the asylum system and those with temporary status in the UK who wish to return voluntarily and permanently to their country of origin or to a third country to which they are admissible.

Home Office Voluntary Returns Service

The Home Office voluntary Returns Service provides support to people with no legal right to be in the UK and who wish to return to their home country.  The service also offers financial support to help the return home in certain circumstances.

Asylum Seekers can apply for extra financial help to return to their home country, if they:

  • Have an existing or previous claim;
  • Are part of a family group and intend to travel as a family;
  • Are under 18 years of age and arrived in the UK unaccompanied by an adult;
  • Are a victim of trafficking;
  • Need additional help due to medical requirements or have other exceptional needs.

If the asylum seeker requires support to leave the UK but is unsure if the situation meets the above criteria, contact the Voluntary Returns Service for more advice.  If the asylum seeker qualifies, the following extra help will be offered:

The support that the asylum seeker is entitled to will depend on the situation, but it could include:

Up to £2,000 to help you resettle back into the home country, which can be used to find somewhere to live, find a job or start a business;

  • Help applying for travel documents;
  • Help booking the flights;
  • Help at the airport.

Even if the asylum seeker has remained in the UK unlawfully, the Voluntary Returns Service can help them leave voluntarily and return to their country of origin.

For more information, please visit www.gov.uk/return-home-voluntarily or you can contact the team via:
Telephone: 0300 004 0202 (if the asylum seeker qualifies for extra financial support to return home, choose option 3)
Fax: 0870 337 9557, Email: voluntaryreturns@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

People who have been refused asylum and are preparing to leave the country can get short term (Section 4) support. This provides somewhere to live and £35.39 per person on a payment card for food, clothing and toiletries.

Those who have exhausted their appeal rights and fail to leave the country may face enforced removal. They have no recourse to public funds.   An exception to this is asylum seekers with dependent children, who continue to receive (Section 95) accommodation and support until they leave the country.

Why are some asylum seekers destitute?

Failed asylum seekers who have not left the country can be left destitute because they are unable to work, and have no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

Not all destitute asylum seekers are people who have failed claims. When an asylum claim is accepted, and the asylum seeker has been given leave to remain in the country, their accommodation and asylum support funding is withdrawn. This should not be a problem because the Department of Work and Pensions issue them with a National Insurance number, enabling them to work and claim benefits. However, frequently there are delays of many months in this system, and these refugees are left unable to evidence their right to work or receive benefits, and are consequently left destitute. Local authorities and voluntary groups end up having to help them bridge the gap.

The low level of financial support provided to asylum seekers, sometimes over many years, leaves them with very low incomes even if they are not entirely destitute.

Asylum seekers can apply for support for the period during which their asylum application and any subsequent appeal is being considered. This is often referred to as Section 95 support (defined in Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999). The application can be for subsistence and accommodation or for subsistence only

While an application for Section 95 support is being considered the Home Office can offer what is known as Section 98 support (defined in Section 98 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999). This will be offered if the asylum seeker is destitute, or is likely to become destitute, while the Section 95 application is being considered. Section 98 support is short term, in initial accommodation, and covering essential living needs.

They will be given an Application Registration Card (ARC). This acts as a form of ID, but also enables the holder to collect their financial support at their local post office on a weekly basis.

An asylum seeker who has no dependent children at the time of a final refusal decision will have their support terminated 21 days after the decision. They may then be eligible for Section 4 support (defined in Section 4 of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act). It is only given to people meeting one of a small number of tightly defined conditions. These include demonstrating willingness to leave the UK, having a medical reason not to travel, or being unable to travel because there is no safe route of return. The person must be destitute or about to become destitute.

Applicants may apply for short-term support if their application for asylum was unsuccessful; if they have a temporary barrier to return to the country of origin and are destitute.  Financial Support is provided in the form of a payment card called Azure. This is not cashable and can be used in major supermarkets. Accommodation can also be provided. Please see https://www.gov.uk/asylum-support.