The Home Office has confirmed that recipients of ‘Section 4’ support can now use their Aspen cards to purchase goods at the same range of retail outlets available to recipients of ‘Section 95’ support. Those benefiting from this change will have received a letter informing them that the limited number of retail outlets previously available has been expanded.

Unfortunately, some asylum-seekers who received these letters in their first language have been unable to read them as they have been translated by Google and are incomprehensible. The Arabic version is particularly nonsensical.

The Aspen Card, was introduced recently for everyone receiving asylum support. The card replaces cash payments (Section 95) with a card that can be used to buy goods in any shop that accepts VISA debit cards and to withdraw cash at cash machines. It also replaces the Azure card (Section 4) although Section 4 claimants cannot use it to withdraw cash. The widening of retail outlets beyond the major supermarkets and Boots is welcome.

There have been other issues reported, such as the Home Office call handlers claiming they are not able to provide emergency support tokens once the new ASPEN card is sent out, or in the event that it is lost, stolen, delayed in the post, or isn’t working. The Home Office have officially stated  this is incorrect information and the procedure for those in this situation is as follows;

Migrant Help should be contacted if the card it lost or stolen and Sodexho if the card is not functioning. Sodexho Pass Helpline on 01276 687 099.

In cases where a new card is required these agencies will then contact the Home Office who will authorise emergency support vouchers to be issued by the housing provider.  It is advisable that the housing provider also be contacted to ensure the person receives the vouchers. (This is the same procedure for those on Section 95 however the housing provider will issue cash payments instead of vouchers.)

In addition, The Unity Centre in Glasgow has warned users that the Home Office can now monitor and scrutinise how they spend their £36.92 weekly benefit. They say: “The Home Office already deny or cut asylum seekers support if they deem their spending to be on “unnecessary” items. Unity would advise people to withdraw their support in one lump sum. Don’t let them snoop!”  Unfortunately those on Section 4 do not have this choice.

Another concerning issue which has recently been brought to our attention is that the publicly listed fax number on the Home Office website for Section 4 applications is incorrect and will not be answered (ending 9627). This is of particular concern given that section 4 applicants are often homeless and destitute and we know of at least one case where an applicant remained destitute for at least one month because of this issue and the impact on his application.This has been brought to the attention of Migrant Help and the Asylum Support Team but at the time of posting the “black hole fax number” remains on the website. Please ensure that case workers and anyone applying for asylum support is aware of this and avoid using this fax number.  We are still seeking clarity on which fax number applications can be sent to.

Asylum Matters would like to hear from Aspen card users and their supporters of any other issues which arise, in addition to examples of correspondence from the Home Office that have been translated by Google Translate instead of proper interpreting services. Further examples will be shared with the Home Office Asylum Support Team to end this unacceptable practice. Please send any information or concerns to Emma Birks on [email protected].

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