The Home Office has been accused of “spying” on asylum seekers after it was reported the department secretly monitors their debit card use in order to track their whereabouts.
Individuals have had their asylum support withdrawn for making trips to see relatives or attending court hearings because officials accused them of venturing out of their “authorised” city, according to The Sunday Times.
The newspaper reported on one case in which a teenage schoolgirl who fled religious persecution in east Africa bought a train ticket using a donation from a local church to attend her father’s wake.
In another case study, a Sudanese man living in the Midlands had his benefits withdrawn after attending a court hearing in London.
The surveillance is said to be carried out through Aspen cards, a form of debit card issued to asylum seekers to enable them to buy food and basic supplies, for which they receive a weekly allowance of £37.75. In return for this, they are forbidden from leaving their residence for more than a week without permission.
If they are believed to have done so, asylum seekers are reportedly told they will lose their support unless they persuade the Home Office they are still destitute within five days, and if they respond late or with inadequate evidence, their benefits are suspended and they risk homelessness.
It comes after The Independent revealed that asylum seekers were being forced to undertake five-hour round trips to compulsory Home Office meetings, in what was branded an expansion of the hostile environment policy.
In one example, asylum seekers living in Stoke-on-Trent were ordered to sign the Home Office register in Salford after the local immigration service closed in October.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection.
“Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation while applications are considered. We also cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs.
“Where evidence comes to light that would suggest an asylum applicant has access to alternative accommodation or support, we would invite the applicant to give an account of their activity.”