accessibility & help

The Azure card report – a life without cash for asylum seekers

The Azure card is given to refused asylum seekers who are destitute and cannot return home for reasons beyond their control. 

They are legally allowed to stay in the UK as they wait. 

While they do so, this piece of plastic is the difference between getting their next meal and going hungry – and some have to live on it for years. 

The Azure card: all you need to know 

Since they cannot work, many of these asylum seekers are at risk of destitution – becoming homeless or unable to buy food. 

They can therefore receive section 4 support from the Home Office, which will give them:

  • temporary accommodation, on a no-choice basis 
  • the Azure card, pre-loaded with £35.39 a week (for single asylum seekers). 

Our report

The British Red Cross provides support to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in 48 towns and cities across the UK.   

Our report, ‘The Azure payment card: the humanitarian cost of a cashless system’ uses qualitative and quantitative data to explore how well the card works. 

We approached asylum seekers who have used the Azure card – and the organisations that support them. 

Key findings

  • The Azure card often fails to work because of technical difficulties – leaving people without financial support for days.
  • Only certain shops and supermarkets accept the card – and even these sometimes refuse to accept it or misunderstand how it works. 
  • There are restrictions on what can be bought with the card. For example, it does not cover school trips or travel fares.
  • Getting to essential appointments, such as medical and legal ones, can be a huge problem. 
  • Some people have to walk long distances to get to a supermarket that accepts the card (which may not be the nearest or cheapest).
  • You cannot carry over more than £5 if you don’t spend the full amount each week – making it difficult to save for pricier items, such as a pair of shoes. (Update: from 23 February 2015, there is no longer a carryover limit.)
  • People are being left hungry: some asylum seekers we spoke to said they were unable to eat three meals a day.
  • Nearly three-quarters of organisations in our survey believe that Azure card users struggle to provide enough food for their children and other dependents. 
  • It is difficult for families on the Azure card to stay healthy – which can increase the costs for other services. 
  • Living on the Azure card creates unnecessary suffering for people who have fled war, violence and persecution – and are already in desperate situations.
  • The payment system can affect their mental health, ability to maintain relationships, and participation in social, cultural and religious life. 
  • The card can cause stigma as it singles its users out at the checkout.
  • Some cashier assistants aren’t properly trained, which can cause embarrassment. 

The Azure card is not working

Instead, we call on MPs to:

  • abolish the Azure card 
  • integrate asylum support and ensure it lasts throughout the asylum process – for those seeking asylum and those who have been refused asylum
  • give this integrated support in cash (excluding accommodation costs), just like other benefits.

Read the full report

Audrey and Azure cards: “Less than human”

Voucher to help destitute asylum seekers

Audrey has lived on the Azure card for a few years now – and says she faces problems every day.

Read her story >

Three reasons why the Azure card doesn't work

Asylum seeker on the Azure payment card

Jonathan Ellis has seen first-hand how much asylum seekers suffer while they live off a payment card that gives little dignity.

Read his account >


Refugee blogs