PEOPLE seeking asylum are being forced into destitution due to an inadequate support service that is failing to inform them of their rights, according to campaigners.

Charities and support groups claim asylum seekers – fleeing war, persecution and sometimes torture – are being failed by the system, after face-to-face advice services were pulled 18 months ago and replaced by a telephone help services based in the south-east of England.

They claim the phone service, provided by charity Migrant Help which is contracted by the Home Office, is failing to tell people they are able apply for emergency support (known as Section 98) they are legally entitled to while waiting for their application for asylum support to be processed, leaving people destitute, homeless and desperate.

Others claim long waits on the helpline of over an hour – which until July this year was not free to some mobiles – mean people struggle to access help and are instead turning to voluntary organisations to help them access their rights and entitlements.

Mia Light, one of a small group of volunteers running the Unity Centre in Glasgow, said the group was overwhelmed with destitute and vulnerable people looking for help.

Though volunteer advisors were able to explain people’s right to emergency help while waiting for asylum support, and help them request it through the helpline, some cases were taking several days she said, leaving vulnerable men and women with nowhere to stay and no cash for essentials.

“People present here as entirely destitute and without support,” said Light.

“The night shelter is routinely full and that’s only for men.

“We try to find places for women and we are regularly receiving referrals from other agencies.”

She claimed people were being sent from the Home Office’s Brand Street office round the corner to request help to access the Migrant Help helpline.

She added: “The very nature of the [asylum support] contract is ineffective.

“It’s a phone-based service but people need help face-to-face.

“It’s an unworkable model – we are seeing people who have suffered rape or torture and need serious psychological support.

“It’s a scandal that this is falling on us. It’s a daily and anger-inducing problem.”

One Glasgow support worker, who did not want to be named, has helped three destitute families in the past month.

They had not been told on the helpline they could apply for emergency support while waiting for their Section 95 asylum support to be processed.

“People have been phoning up Migrant Help and explaining they need support,” he said.

“They are being told they need to apply for Section 95 support, which takes four to six weeks.

“In fact they are eligible for an emergency form of support while they are waiting but they are not being told that.

“The system is failing these families.”

Rizwan Liaquat, an immigration lawyer with Livingston Brown, said several of his clients had recently been left destitute despite being entitled to support.

He added: “There have been problems with Migrant Help at the outset and that created a backlog that we are still seeing now, 18 months in.

“We do understand that the staff are in a difficult situation.

“If they don’t have the proper manpower and resources what can they do?

“But at the same time our clients need somewhere to sleep and something to eat.”

THE Ethnic Minority Law Centre said that since the helpline had been introduced, clients often struggled to navigate the system and were sometimes left without support because they did not know they were entitled to any.

Meanwhile, the British Red Cross, which runs an asylum service in Glasgow, claimed the number of destitute people accessing its service in the past year had doubled, and that a “significant” proportion of people were in fact entitled to support.

The Scottish Refugee Council, which has run a reduced support service for asylum seekers since losing its contract with the Home Office to provide a face-to-face advice service 18 months ago, also confirmed it was regularly seeing destitute people who had not received the right advice.

Graham O’Neill, policy officer at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: “The Home Secretary has a statutory obligation to ensure asylum seekers applying for or awaiting a decision on their claim, are not left destitute.

“She must ensure that this obligation is always fulfilled, not only by officials in the discharge of their duties on asylum support, but also through her public contracts for advice on the asylum process and eligibility to financial support and accommodation.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who genuinely need it.

“Asylum seekers receive financial support as well as access to housing, education and NHS healthcare while their claim for protection is being considered.

“If someone is found not to need the UK’s protection we expect them to leave the country voluntarily, and we provide assistance to help people return to their home country.

“If they cannot return through no fault of their own, we will continue to support them to ensure they are not destitute.”

A spokeswoman for Migrant Help said the charity did not wish to comment.

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