What government support do asylum seekers receive in the UK?

There is a common misconception that asylum seekers are akin to economic migrants, although the reality is that those that have sought asylum in the UK are often provided with only basic support and hold limited rights while their claims are being decided. This article aims to summarise some of the support that asylum seekers receive in the UK and debunk some of the common myths that we see repeatedly shared. 

Financial Support

When an individual has claimed asylum in the UK, and they have no means to financially support themselves, they are able to apply for financial support from the Home Office. This is provided through a prepayment card (called an ASPEN Card) and every asylum seeker is given £39.63 per week, which works out at roughly £5.66 per day. On occasion this will be more, a pregnant mother will receive an extra £3 per week for example, but the vast majority of those on asylum support receive only the basic amount. 

ASPEN Cards can be used in shops and to take cash out, but online payments are not possible. This was a significant problem for our clients during the pandemic, with many having to rely on charitable support if they had been forced to isolate and when retail stores were closed during lockdowns. 

The limited amount of money provided also regularly causes financial hardship for asylum seekers. The Home Office states that the money is provided to cover the cost of basics like food, clothes and toiletries, although it doesn’t account for other costs such as transport. A day-ticket on the bus in Cardiff costs £4, a cost which is highly prohibitive to asylum seekers and often means having to choose between food and transport. Asylum Matters conducted research in 2020, with 92% of asylum seekers they asked stating they did not have enough money to buy all they need and 95% saying they could not afford public transport. In real life terms, this can mean asylum seekers are unable to study as their college is too far away and may even miss medical appointments because they are unable to get there. 


Asylum seekers are also able to apply for housing through the Home Office while their claims are being assessed. Housing provisions for asylum seekers vary dramatically and depend on whether an individual is in the UK as a single person or as part of a family. Houses are generally available to families, but single asylum seekers can be housed in shared houses, hotels and even military barracks. Napier Barracks in Kent is still being used and has at times been home to over 400 asylum seekers. 

Asylum seekers are provided housing on a no choice basis, which includes both the type and location of the accommodation. During the beginning of an asylum claim, an individual may also be moved many times before receiving longer-term accommodation in dispersal areas. For individuals that have already had traumatic journeys, this instability can lead to asylum seekers feeling even more unsettled and discouraged at frequently having to establish their lives in a community. It can also have a detrimental impact on an individual’s mental health. 


All children in the UK have to attend school from ages 5 to 16. Children that are in the UK as part of an asylum claim will be able to access state schools for free and should be able to access free school meals. 

In Wales, asylum seekers that wish to study ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) can access classes for free. However, asylum seekers wishing to access further education or higher education will struggle to find funding. Student Finance and other education funds, such as the Financial Contingency Fund, are currently unavailable to asylum seekers. 

Access to the NHS

Asylum seekers and those going through an appeal are able to access the NHS for free across the UK. In England, refused asylum seekers will have more difficulty as they are not necessarily entitled to free access to the NHS, and it is often only accessible in that case if the medical needs are immediate. 

Asylum seekers are able to apply for help with other costs, such as with prescriptions (in the case of England where they are not free), dentists and opticians. Though this requires the completion of a lengthy form which asylum seekers are often unable to complete without assistance due to language barriers. 


Employment rules set by the Home Office mean that those that have sought asylum in the UK are generally unable to work while their claim is ongoing. The Home Office believes that this policy discourages individuals from seeking asylum in the UK just to take advantage of economic opportunities, and distinguishes economic migrants from asylum seekers. Instead of employment rights, the Home Office provides housing and financial support for asylum seekers, as mentioned earlier. 

There are exceptions to this rule and in certain situations asylum seekers will be permitted to work. If an asylum claim has been ongoing for more than 12 months, and this is through no fault of the individual claiming asylum, then an application can be made for Permission to Work (PTW). Although if permission is awarded to an asylum seeker, this still doesn’t mean that they will have full access to the employment market and restrictions on employment still apply. 

With PTW, individuals are only able to apply for jobs contained on the Shortage Occupation List. This list contains highly skilled roles that the UK are currently unable to fill and includes nuclear scientists, civil engineers, classical ballet dancers, and veterinarians. This often means that, even if asylum seekers are granted permission to work, they do not have the qualifications to gain employment in these jobs. 

If an asylum claim is then refused or the appeals process has ended, the permission is withdrawn. However, if an asylum claim is successful the individual will receive their refugee status and have full access to the employment market.

Written by Tomos Owen