Home Office glitch leaves dozens of Yorkshire refugees without cash

A refugee mum-of-three in Bradford was left without money to feed her family for more than a week due to a Home Office glitch – with dozens of Yorkshire asylum seekers still unable to access cash to buy essentials.

Many families have been unable to use their government-provided Aspen debit card since May 24 as a planned switchover to new contractor PrePaid Financial Services has been plagued with problems.

One mother-of-three in Bradford still couldn’t access money to feed her family as of Thursday, while a single mother with a young toddler was left without funds for a week, the Refugee Action West Yorkshire charity told YorkshireLive.

St Augustine’s Centre in Halifax has had to give out about £1,000 in the past two weeks to asylum seeker families unable to access the £37 a week provided via Aspen cards.

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“One that came yesterday, a single mum, had nothing to live off. [We’ve given out] cash payments of £20 to live off for the weekend or for a prolonged period” a spokeswoman for the charity said, estimating about 30 families had approached St Augustine’s each week.

“In a word, it’s a fiasco and the Home Office are failing to put remedies in place.”

Widely-reported problems include missing Aspen cards, cards being sent to the wrong address and calls to Government contractor Migrant Help being put on hold for hours.

The Bradford mother-of-three waited for three hours before Migrant Help answered and said her Aspen card issue had been resolved – but her card was still declined at the supermarket, Rachel Goodall of Refugee Action West Yorkshire said.

“The changeover was disastrous,” she told YorkshireLive.

“Some people didn’t receive their card, others received their card but were unable to activate it because the Home Office had their details recorded incorrectly. Some people who were able to activate their card found there was no money loaded on.

“People were unable to get help from the Government because their helpline was overwhelmed with calls. It was mayhem.”

Ms Goodall said demand for her charity’s supermarket vouchers and advice has been “through the roof”.

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“We are still seeing the fallout from this botched changeover,” she said.

“While many people have been issued with new cards, some of the people we help have found they’ve been put on the wrong type of asylum support, which means they are not allowed to withdraw cash or use the contactless payment system.”

The charity worker said the Government had “completely failed to prepare” for the changeover, adding Refugee Action had warned ministers about expected problems in June last year.

“The result has been a helpline that has been totally overwhelmed to the point of collapse and housing providers left playing catch up to give people the emergency cash payments they were authorised to provide,” Ms Goodall said.

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A Home Office statement to the Mirror said : “A new service to provide asylum seekers with financial support went live on [May 24] 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.”

YorkshireLive – Halifax