What is an Aspen Card?
The Asylum Support Enablement Card (ASPEN) is given by the Home Office in order to allow the holder to collect their weekly subsistence allowance, usually from section 95 support after claiming for asylum.
The value you may receive will be subject to individual circumstances, though each Aspen card can be utilised in the same manner: to be used to withdraw funds from a cash machine or make card-present transactions.
Though the Aspen card provides extra convenience compared to other methods of disseminating government support funds in the past to asylum seekers, there are many considerations to keep in mind while possessing one, including limitations to that which you may purchase and how much you may save for long term financial planning.
How to Get an Aspen Card?
You will automatically be issued with an Aspen card upon receiving a successful application regarding section 95 or 4 support as an asylum seeker in the UK.
It should take a total of 3 weeks to arrive if staying in full board accommodation following a successful claim for asylum support, otherwise it will be given immediately.
To apply for section 95 support, you must first meet the eligibility requirements and be at least 18 years old, mailing a completed Asylum Support Application Form (ASF1) to the asylum support casework team.
If emergency housing is required, you may claim for section 98 support by completing an Initial Accommodation Referral Form, this will ensure you have somewhere to live until you have heard a response regarding your application for section 95 support. You will not receive an Aspen card in the meantime.
How Much Money Will Be on the Aspen Card?
On section 95 and 4 support, asylum seekers are ordinarily entitled a £47.39 per week subsistence allowance in order to afford essential living needs such as food, toiletries, and medicine, though additional medical support is ordinarily available to the majority of the UK through universal access to the NHS, and asylum seekers are entitled to primarily healthcare from this too.
If you are placed in full board accommodation from your asylum support, this allowance will only be £9.58, but you should be supplied with toiletries and food.
There should be extra funds available to be applied for in such cases as maternity support.
This value will be added to your Aspen card each week and may be checked at any time at a cash machine or by phoning MigrantHelpUK at 0800 246 1327, choosing Option 2, and entering the 16 digit number on the Aspen card.
Funds on your Aspen card which have not been spent after a certain week will carry over to the next, but it is recommended to make the most efficient usage of funds each week as the intention of the Aspen card is not for long-term saving.
How to Activate an Aspen Card?
Before the Aspen card can be used to purchase essential living needs, it must first be activated by phoning MigrantHelpUK as before at 0800 246 1327, choosing Option 1 in order to enter the 16 digit number on the Aspen card, before finally entering your date of birth.
Following this your Aspen card should be activated and ready to use within the limitations of usage.
There have been reports of holders having difficulty in this process of activating their cards, and it is recommended to seek professional assistance if you find yourself unable to complete the activation process due to a technical error. Manchester Immigration Lawyers are able to be contacted by phone at 0161 826 9783 or online to help right away.
Using an Aspen Card and Limitations
Generally you may use an Aspen card as a normal Visa debit card at retail outlets, restaurants, or any other store that accepts such payments.
There are a number of limitations however, and it is important to understand what you may be prevented from doing when possessing an Aspen card.
Only asylum seekers receiving section 95 support may withdraw funds from a cash machine (ATM) in an amount totalling up to £300 per week, a cash machine will also let you check your remaining balance. Not all cash machines, namely freestanding machines in such places as corner shops, will be available, and many will require an extra charge which you are recommended to avoid.
Those receiving section 4 support may not withdraw cash from a cash machine.
Another key limitation of the Aspen card is that it can only be used for card present transactions, rendering shopping online or by the phone not possible. Contactless payments are additionally not possible, and you must remember the PIN number provided with the card in order to utilise it in any manner.
If Aspen Card Is Lost or Stolen
If the Aspen card is lost or stolen, you must contact Migrant Help UK online or by phone at 0808 8010 503 to inform them you don’t have possession of the card anymore and require a replacement.
It is important to clarify this is a different number than the one used to activate or check the balance of your Aspen card, and that number, 0800 246 1327, should only be used in this instance to check that the card is not able to be used by anyone who may have stolen it.
Keeping your Aspen card safe and secured when not in use is essential, and vigilance is recommended especially regarding keeping knowledge of your PIN number from those you cannot trust. As with most places, the most vulnerable areas will be in dense tourist locations. Ensure you know where the card is at all times and that it cannot be easily taken.
Other Issues and Considerations
There are a number of issues that are sometimes faced when provided an Aspen card. These include but are not limited to technical issues, financial issues, and usability issues.
Due to usage over the internet or telephone being restricted, the Aspen card may present some accessibility problems compared to a conventional debit card, and as such there may be some issues accessing funds depending on where your accommodation is situated. Not all stores accept debit payments which may present some extra hurdles in usage, especially if you are on section 4 support and cannot withdraw physical cash in advance.
You are recommended to consult professional budgeting and financial advice in order to maximise the value of your allowance provided weekly for essential living needs. If an asylum seeker is granted refugee status (leave to remain), their section 95 support payments will end after 28 days. This leaves a narrow window to begin the transition from an Aspen card to a standard bank account, and to mainstream benefits available in the UK such as Universal Credit.
There has been considerable speculation that purchases made using Aspen cards by asylum seekers are under much further surveillance than usual, and it is important to reiterate the intent of the weekly subsistence allowance, which is to be spent on essential living needs such as food, clothing, and toiletries.
It is crucial to note that there have been reports of widespread disruptions in Aspen card usage that were attributed to certain technical issues on behalf of the Home Office. Additionally, there have been significant delays in some individuals receiving their Aspen cards, with some cards being issued with incorrect names, or no funds that have been made available.
If you have been left stuck with seemingly no recourse in a situation similar to this, it is recommended to consult expert legal help which Manchester Immigration Lawyers can offer. Contact us today at 0161 826 9783 by phone or online.
In order to receive an Aspen card and begin utilising provided funds, you must first apply for and be granted section 95 support as part of your claim for asylum, a process which could take over 12 months. In this time there may be a host of problems that present themselves, emphasising the importance of utilising professional help with your applications in order to expedite the process and reduce waiting times for responses.
Receiving a response regarding section 95 support itself can take up to a number of months, so it is important to ensure you have the most professional assistance at your disposal in order to rectify any issues with your application or simply to inspect every document for submission. We can also help with the appeals process if you have initially been denied for your asylum claim or support.
Manchester Immigration Lawyers are an experienced team of immigration specialists with a deep understanding of the asylum process in the UK. Our expert insight and legal assistance can support you should you experience any significant difficulty with your Aspen card.
Contact us today online or by telephone at 0161 826 9783.
Last modified on November 3rd, 2023 at 4:43 pm
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The only source of funds that can be deposited onto the card is the Home Office. Cash cannot be used at a bank or cash machine to increase the funds on the card.
In addition the Aspen card will not be connected to any accessible bank account, meaning you will not be able to send or receive payments online.
People claiming for asylum in the UK cannot apply for Universal Credit, and must instead make an application for section 95 support while waiting for a response for their asylum claim.
If destitute, you may receive section 98 support as an emergency form of housing assistance while waiting for a response for section 95 support.
Upon receiving an acceptance for an asylum claim and being granted refugee status, you may open a basic bank account or a current account without the restrictions implemented by an Aspen card. You may also send and receive payments, make transactions freely online or by telephone, and find work to begin saving long term.
You will also have access to mainstream benefits in the UK, including being able to apply for Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance.
There is additional advice and assistance provided by Refugee Council on opening and using a bank account.