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What’s Broke Needs Fixing: Asylum Seeker Accommodation

The High Court judgment in R (DMA & Ors) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2020]

Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

Written by Isabelle Cooper

Published 16/02/2021


In a rare case, a significant judicial review challenge against the Secretary of State has been upheld. The review concerned the systemic delays in accommodation provision for destitute and refused asylum seekers. There were findings of systemic unlawfulness, disability discrimination, breach of public sector equality duty and failure to monitor outsourced contracts to private companies[1]. This ruling was delivered amidst a backdrop of renewed public scrutiny against the Home Office following fires at Napier Barracks; facilities used to house migrants and asylum seekers[2].

This case is significant for several reasons:

  • First reported case examining the operation of the asylum support system under Section 4(2) of the 1999 Act[3].
  • One of relatively few reported judicial review cases in which a claim under Section 15 and 29(6) of the Equality Act 2010 has been upheld[4].
  • Rejects the Secretary of State’s attempt to justify discrimination against disabled individuals on the grounds of immigration control[5].

Case Specifics:

The case concerned 5 individual claimants, all rejected asylum seekers, challenging the operation of the asylum support system[6]. At the time, all claimants were in the UK, and had varying levels of vulnerability (one claimants was severely disabled).

The claimants had no right to work and ‘no recourse to public funds’. Thus, all claimants had requested support from Section 4(2) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999[7], specifically in regard to accommodation provision.

Unfortunately, all claimants endured huge delays in accessing accommodation for various reasons. Consequently, this left the claimants reliant on charities, communities, and friends for basic necessities.

The Secretary of State argued that one main reason for the delay was due to the claimants ‘failure to travel’[8], specifically that they were not at the collection point at the correct time to be taken to their Home Office accommodation. In actuality, no prior notification of the collection time and location had been given to the claimants.

For instance, the Home Office notified ELN the day of their collection. Unfortunately, that day they were at the Home Office reporting centre in Solihull that day, which was far away. Likewise, DMA was at the doctor’s when he was notified that he was being picked up in that moment, and the driver did not wait[9]. The judge, Mr Justice Robin Knowles, thus argued against the Secretary of State’s claim that the fault lay with the claimants: ‘the worst is assumed of the claimants, with no room for reflection that there may be good reasons or if there is fault that it may lie elsewhere’[10].


Mr Justice Robin Knowles CBE confirms that the Secretary of State’s current operation of the section 4(2) system is unlawful, due to[11]:

  1. Systemic, unreasonable delays in the prevention of the imminent risk of inhuman and degrading treatment.
    1. In fact, no argument can be made for ‘affordability constraints’ since there are none.
  2. failure to capture data properly and failure to properly monitor the provision of accommodation; and
    1. e.g. numbers of disabled applicants for Section 4(2) support
  3. failure to monitor the provision of accommodation to disabled persons.

The Court awarded damages of £1,000 each to four of the claimants in ‘just satisfaction’ for the breaches of their rights under Article 3 of the ECHR[12].


This case provides hope for those challenging the normalisation of systemic delays in the UK asylum support system. For the Secretary of State to refuse responsibility for these delays is now as her refusing to do her duty. As Mr Justice Robin Knowles puts it ‘To decline to improve a system that is failing to meet the requirements of a duty, when that system can be improved, is equivalent to a decision not to perform a duty. It would be an example of the “deliberate decision to delay”’[13].

[1] Matrix Chambers, 2020. Court finds systemic unlawfulness and disability discrimination in the asylum support accommodation system. Matrix Chambers, viewed 14/02/2021, https://www.matrixlaw.co.uk/judgments/court-finds-systemic-unlawfulness-and-disability-discrimination-in-the-asylum-support-accommodation-system/

[2] E Wallis, 2021, 14 asylum seekers arrested in UK following fire at former army barracks, Infomigrants.net, viewed 14/02/2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29997/14-asylum-seekers-arrested-in-uk-following-fire-at-former-army-barracks

[3] B Amunwa, 2021, High Court finds ‘huge delay’ in the Home Office provision of asylum support accommodation. Lawmostly.com, viewed 10/02/2021. https://lawmostly.com/2021/01/30/high-court-finds-huge-delay-in-the-home-office-provision-of-asylum-support-accommodation-priti-patel-barracks-covid-19-coronavirus-human-rights-equality-discrimination/

[6] EWHC, 2020, EWHC 3416 (Admin), viewed 10/02/2020, https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2020/3416.html

[11] B Amunwa, 2021, High Court finds ‘huge delay’ in the Home Office provision of asylum support accommodation. Lawmostly.com, viewed 10/02/2021, https://lawmostly.com/2021/01/30/high-court-finds-huge-delay-in-the-home-office-provision-of-asylum-support-accommodation-priti-patel-barracks-covid-19-coronavirus-human-rights-equality-discrimination/.

[12] Ibid

[13] EWHC, 2020, EWHC 3416 (Admin), viewed 10/02/2020, https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2020/3416.html

February 16,2021 at 12:09 pm


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