Updates, commentary, training and advice on immigration and asylum law

Refugees can now claim Universal Credit without a biometric residence permit

Changes have been made to the evidence refugees need to apply for Universal Credit and they should now be able to access this with their grant letter and Asylum Registration Card (ARC). We have previously covered the issue of Home Office changes to the notice period for stopping asylum support and the issue has been receiving an increasing volume of media coverage as the numbers increase and the weather gets colder. The Big Issue has reported that the Home Office will pause making newly recognised refugees homeless from 23 December to 2 January.

The Home Office remains completely intransigent about reverting to the previous position where the 28 days’ notice period of asylum support stopping would run from receipt of the biometric residence permit. They also refuse to even acknowledge that they have made the change that is sending newly recognised refugees onto the streets in below zero temperatures (see most recently questions 145 to 147 from the Home Affairs Select Committee session last week).

New Universal Credit guidance

The Department for Work and Pensions has, however, taken action. A recent Freedom of Information request asked for a copy of their “updated Universal Credit guidance on Refugees and Asylum Seekers, specifically in relation to the update confirming acceptable evidence for refugees who haven’t yet received their Biometric Residence Permits”.

The response has provided an extract of what seems to be internal guidance that states the following:

Primary evidence

Primary evidence is where the issuing source of the evidence confirmed the applicant’s identity through an identity checking process.

The issuing source is Government and has strong registration procedures with robust checking processes contain within the face-to-face application. Documents contain many developed security features, which make them more difficult to forge or counterfeit.

The Primary documents listed below must be current where necessary.

  • ARC (Application Registration Card) and Home Office Decision Grant Letter. These documents can be used together if the information is the same and confirmed by the Home Office to verify ID when a refugee has not received a Biometric Residence Permit. One without the other cannot be accepted.

This change is possibly also related to the refusal of permission by the Supreme Court in Ngoc Hong Thi Bui, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2023] EWCA Civ 566. In this case, the Court of Appeal said that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions’ blanket policy of not providing advance payments for claimants without a National Insurance Number was unlawful.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ publicly available guidance to refugees as at 1 December still erroneously states the position prior to the Home Office change: “If you’re receiving asylum support from the Home Office (money and/or accommodation), this will end 28 days after getting your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP).” This should also be urgently amended to reflect the correct position.


The combined effect of these changes is that refugees should now be able to make a claim for Universal Credit using their grant letter and Application Registration Card and the Department for Work and Pensions should make payments on account while the Universal Credit application is being processed. This does not change the fact that 28 days is still not enough time to get your life up and running after what might have been years of enforced unemployment, but it is at least an improvement on the situation caused by the Home Office’s changes to the eviction notice period this summer.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.