QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT
B e f o r e :
|THE LONDON BOROUGH OF SOUTHWARK||(DEFENDANT)|
Computer-Aided Transcript of the Stenograph Notes of
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited
190 Fleet Street London EC4A 2AG
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
MR MARK HENDERSON (instructed by McMillen, Hamilton, McCarthy. Solicitors, 17-19 Alie Street, London, E1 8DE) appeared on behalf of the CLAIMANT
MS SIÂN DAVIES (instructed by London Borough of Southwark Legal Services, South House, 30-32 Peckham Road, London, SE5 8UB) appeared on behalf of the DEFENDANT
Crown Copyright ©
"We confirm that all clients receiving financial assistance by the local authority were informed of the change in how payments are to be made in the future. This information was in writing. The change has come into operation as a result of the most recent Home Office Directorate [sic].
"We are instructed that £420.00 for a three-week period is not unreasonable, taking into consideration that your client was made aware of the new procedure in advance."
"Under instruction from the Home Office the financial support levels relating to couples will be reduced to 70% of Income Support Rates effective from 22/07/02.
"If you have any queries, please speak to your caseworker who will be able to explain in depth."
"Please see as follows instructions from NASS regarding payments. We have been instructed that in view of this document, it appears that the Asylum Team over paid your client. This came to their attention when audited. In order to recoup this over payment and to ensure the minimum disruption to your client, she was notified that she would be paying the sum of £840 over a six week period instead of four, paid in two three week blocks. At the time of writing we do not have copy of the letter sent to your client confirming this."
No doubt the reason the local authority does not have a copy of that letter is that it does not exist.
The letter goes on:
"We would like to avoid any further litigation on this matter and would ask if you have any alternative suggestions as to how the outstanding arrears can be paid by your client."
So there, at that point, is the local authority, notwithstanding that they had failed to pay the claimant on two separate weeks, claiming that she owed them money. I have to say that I find that quite extraordinary.
"2. That decision has been withdrawn by the Defendant, and the withdrawal notified to the Claimant's representatives on 27 August 2002."
"3. It is noted by the Defendant that correspondence after 9th August 2002 refers to recoupment of an overpayment to the Claimant and to alterations in the rate of support payable to asylum seekers.
"4. The Defendant will investigate the matters raised by the Claimant in the judicial review claim form and the Claimant will be notified of the outcome of the investigation, and of any further decision in relation to her entitlement to support, the rate and frequency thereof, as soon as possible.
"5. For the avoidance of doubt, the Defendant's position is that the challenged decision has been withdrawn and a fresh decision on the Claimant's support payments will be taken.
"6. In the meantime the Claimant has been provided with a payment of £120.08 on 16th August 2002 and continues to receive fortnightly support payments of £448.84 per fortnight."
"During July to August 2002, cash payments to asylum seekers were transferred from two weeks in advance to two weeks in arrears. This change applied to all asylum seekers supported by the authority at that date.
"This was done in order to avoid overpayments which were occurring when an advance payment was made to a supported person, who during the period for which the payment had been made was granted leave to remain, or withdrew their claim for asylum, and ceased to be eligible for support under the Interim Provisions.
"In addition, mainstream benefits such as jobseekers allowance and income support are paid in arrears. The transition to arrears therefore brings asylum support into line with these other benefits and makes the path from asylum support to benefits smoother when a supported person is granted status. The last asylum support payment would be made in arrears and then other benefits would follow the fortnightly in arrears cycle.
"The means by which the change from advance to arrears was accomplished was by way of a transitional period between July and August 2000."
He attaches a schedule which was already in evidence, I think, or at least had been disclosed, before dealing with the way in which the payments had been phased in:
"Payments numbered 8-10 in bold demonstrate the transitional period. Payment no.8 was in advance. The new regime was phased in at payment no.9 (which was one week in advance and one week in arrears) made three weeks after payment no.8. This took Ms Szoma halfway through the transition, as she was now one week in arrears. Payment in arrears was operational by payment no.10, which is 2 weeks in arrears and was 3 weeks after payment no.9. It should be noted that it was between payments 9 and 10, i.e. at the time any hardship caused to Ms Szoma by the transition would have been felt, that the one off hardship payment was made.
"The local authority recognised that the transition might cause some hardship to supported persons and a one off hardship payment was made on 16.8.2002 of £120.08 in recognition of the Claimant's claimed financial hardship.
"The Local Authority provide a service for over five hundred asylum seekers and since the change in payment from advance to arrears, this has been the only case in which a supported person has complained of suffering hardship. As set out above, the one off payment was in recognition of this. In my opinion the transition is in the interests of supported persons because they receive a payment at the end of their period of local authority support and are 'cushioned' from hardship by the transition to state benefits."
"Temporary support must appear to the local authority by whom it is provided to be adequate for the needs of the person claiming support and his dependants (if any)."