A SCOTS charity says it has received hundreds of calls from asylum seekers in Glasgow and across the UK who are being forced into destitution because of a “botched” Home Office transfer of debit card contracts.

Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) said their homelessness team had been fielding calls from across the country from asylum-seeking families who have had no money for food or essential supplies since May 21, because of the Aspen Card switch from Sodexo to a company called Prepaid Financial Services.

Before last weekend’s change the charity said families were told to “stock up” on food because their old cards would be switched off.

PAIH director Robina Qureshi said when people were already living in a state of “forced destitution”, on as little as £5.39 a day, it was not possible to stockpile food, and the emergency appeared to be worsening.

She said those affected included elderly people, families with babies and young children and single men and women, including some with mental health trauma, as well as physical health problems.

“Language differences and problems with access to digital technology were compounding the difficulties.

“Complaints include people’s cards being activated but when they go to shops to buy food, the card is declined with a message saying to contact their bank,” said Qureshi.

“People have gone to ATMs and found there is a limit on cash withdrawals or that there is nothing on the card. Balances of a few pounds from the previous week have been wiped and there are worries about when their card will be sent.”

PAIH is running an emergency service through the bank holiday weekend to ensure affected families in Glasgow have access to food and other essentials.

And Qureshi rejected the Home Office’s claim of “teething problems”, saying it was now a full-scale emergency.

“The sheer numbers of people trying to get help means people can’t access these ‘emergency payments’,” she said.

“As to the Home Office’s claim about clear advice, the instructions for activation are very difficult to understand and provided only in English. There are no step-by-step instructions guiding people on activation, or a video how-to guide, which is absolutely necessary in the era of lockdown when face-to-face services are severely limited.

“Many of the problems reported are from people who have not received their Aspen Card, or got cards that have zero credit or declined at ATMs and checkouts, and people are being told to contact their banks, when they don’t have bank accounts.

“So the Home Office should not even attempt to make this the fault of asylum seekers, who are already vulnerable because of the Home Office’s own politicised agenda against refugees and migrants. The reverberations will be felt for years to come.”

Qureshi is now urging people to contact their MPs so they can raise the issue with the relevant department.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “A new service to provide asylum seekers with financial support went live on Monday and we are assisting everyone affected to ensure they get access to their payments swiftly.

“We provided clear advice to asylum seekers that they must activate their new cards prior to the service going live and the vast majority of individuals have done so.

“Those who have issues or are unsure how they can activate their cards are able to contact the 24/7 Migrant Help helpline.

“Accommodation providers can facilitate emergency cash payments in the meantime.”