Families with children and vulnerable adults were left penniless and hungry after a change to payment cards for asylum seekers descended into a “shambolic mess”.

Charities were left picking up the pieces after asylum seekers found they could not access any money due to errors with the rollout of a new type of payment card by a Home Office contractor.

Asylum Link Merseyside, based at the St Anne’s Centre in Toxteth, said it had issued more than 35 emergency food packages in the week after the new cards went live on May 21 – including to families with young children and adults with severe mental health problems.

The issue surrounds debit cards, known as Aspen cards, given to those going through the asylum process to enable them to access £39.63 per week in support payments from the government.

The issuing of the cards is contracted out to a private firm called Prepaid Financial Services, but reports have emerged of technical errors with the new cards, cards being sent to the wrong address and asylum seekers becoming confused with the process.

Ewan Roberts, centre manager for Asylum Link Merseyside, told the ECHO: “We’re 20 years old this year but have never witnessed an attack on Refugees like the one Home Secretary Priti Patel has unleashed with her new plan for immigration.

“Last week the Government introduced new payment cards for Asylum Seekers, many of which went to the wrong addresses or were returned to Croydon, or couldn’t be activated.

Home Secretary Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel (Image: PA)

“It demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how the system works and blames the ills of an inefficient and disorganised Home Office on the people seeking help.

“The long and the short of it was the voluntary sector dealing with Asylum Seekers had to stop what it was doing and provide food for people last week.

“Their emergency payments system collapsed. This was entirely predictable and demonstrates what a shambolic mess they make of things.

“More than that, we actually had households with children, who had nothing to eat. It makes a mockery of the Home Secretary telling us she is closing the borders to make it safer for people.”

Mr Roberts said those using the old cards had been encouraged to spend their money before the new system came in place – meaning they were suddenly left penniless.

He said: “Asylum seekers do not have cupboards full of supplies like you or I may have, you cannot expect that with £39 per week.

“When your money stops for whatever reason it’s a big deal. Especially if you are new in an area like Liverpool, it can be quite disorientating, there is the language issue and it can be quite hostile.

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“We helped more than 30 people last week, and we spoke to voluntary sector organisations in other areas and it was the same for them.

“These are just the people who have been able to get in contact with us as well. It’s horrific, they go to use their cards and their is just nothing there.

“If they are lucky enough to have money on their phones they can call for help.”

Examples of people left at their wits end by the process included a family of five including three children with disabilities and a mum with “severe” mental health issues.

The family activated their new cards according to the instructions they were given, but found it had a nil balance.

The mum called the dedicated helpline for asylum seekers, Migrant Help, and after several attempts requested an emergency payment.