WINCHESTER is not home to anyone receiving support while they attempt to claim asylum, despite a record number across the UK.

The Liberal Democrats have criticised the Government's "appalling and unacceptable" system for leaving vulnerable people in limbo for many months, after the number receiving support while they wait for an asylum decision elsewhere in the UK reached the highest on record.

People with ongoing claims for asylum receive financial assistance and accommodation through what is known as Section 95 support, as do those whose application was unsuccessful, but who had children in their household at the time.

Home Office figures show there were no asylum seekers receiving Section 95 support in Winchester at the end of June. There were also none at the end of March.

But across the UK, a record 45,769 people were getting support – 50% more than five years previously.

Separate figures from the Home Office show the vast majority (72%) of applicants waiting for a decision at the end of June had waited more than six months, compared to just 54% the year before.

Applicants are prevented from claiming welfare benefits – and in most cases from working – while waiting for a decision.

Those receiving Section 95 support are given accommodation, typically in hostels or shared flats, access to healthcare, education for children under 18, and £5.66 per day in aid.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a new dedicated unit to speed up asylum decisions and want to lift the ban on asylum seekers working, boosting applicants' income and giving them the chance to contribute to the economy.

Christine Jardine, an MP and the party's Home Affairs spokeswoman, said: “We should welcome people who’ve come to the UK fleeing war or persecution with compassion and enable them to contribute to our society, not keep them trapped for months on just £5.66 a day – especially now during this pandemic.

“The way the Home Office is treating these vulnerable people is appalling and unacceptable.

"It is leaving thousands of asylum seekers waiting many months for a decision, preventing them from working, renting a home or supporting their families."

Paul Hook, director of campaign group Asylum Matters, said: "The Government must provide faster and more accurate decisions on asylum claims; ensure asylum support rates allow people to meet their essential living needs; and lift the ban to restore the right to work to people while they wait for a decision on their claim."

Though there was no-one receiving support in Winchester at the end of June, the South East was home to 823 asylum seekers in total – the lowest of all 12 UK regions.

The most common nationality in the South East was Albanian, with 94 receiving support.

The Home Office prevents asylum seekers from working unless their claim has been outstanding for 12 months through no fault of their own, and restricts them to jobs in which the UK has a shortage of workers.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are dealing with sustained high levels of new asylum applications which is creating pressure and the impact of Covid-19 has significantly impacted on our ability to progress asylum claims.

"As restrictions are lifted we are getting the system moving once again and we have plans in place to improve the speed with which outstanding asylum claims are decided."