A legal fight has begun to stop almost £1million of taxpayers’ money being spent on adult asylum seekers posing as children, it emerged last night.
Since May Liverpool council say 39 refugees whose age was in doubt have arrived in the city.
Following specialist assessments costing £60,000, 24 were found to be adults, while only 15 were under 18. Another 17 cases are under review.
Some asylum seekers coming to Britain try to lie about their age because support for under-18s is much better than for adults.
Storm: Siavash Shah claimed to be 15. A pupil at Stoke High School in Ipswich posted a Snapchat image of a Shah in his maths class with the caption, ‘how's there a 30-year-old man in our maths class?’
Children must be offered free access to schools and universities, secure housing and qualify for more benefits.
But councillors in Liverpool say that when the age of an asylum seeker is disputed, solicitors representing the refugees attempt to contest the council’s age assessment by threatening to take the authority to judicial review.
Instead of incurring high legal costs, the council has been providing homes and support for the young immigrants – at a cost of around £350,000 a year – until they claim they reach adulthood.
However, according to a report to the council’s education and children’s services committee, it can’t go on funding the increasing numbers as it tackles a £6.6million budget shortfall.
Don't report illegal immigrants if they're crime victims, police told
Police should turn a blind eye to illegal immigrants if they are victims of crime, according to new guidance.
It says officers ‘will not take enforcement action in relation to any suspected immigration breaches’ when people have been crime victims.
The guidance was agreed by chief officers amid ‘heightened interest’ after the Windrush scandal, when it emerged that Commonwealth citizens had been wrongfully detained and deported.
It says that where a person reporting a crime is identified as potentially not having leave to remain or enter the UK, the ‘fundamental principle’ must be ‘first and foremost’ to treat them as a victim. The guidance includes a ban on checking the police national computer solely to see if someone is an illegal immigrant.
A paper setting out the policy says: ‘Where police are investigating a crime and… it becomes apparent the victim is also suspected of being an illegal immigrant, it is appropriate that the officer in the case should contact Immigration Enforcement at the appropriate juncture, whilst ensuring they are also treated as a victim.
‘The police will share that information with Immigration Enforcement, but will not take any enforcement action in relation to any suspected immigration breaches.’
Bosses have now agreed to pay to fight the next six cases in court. They say that if they win, it could save them up to £850,000 a year.
Councillor Barry Kushner, cabinet member for children and social care on the city council, said: ‘We will start to challenge these cases so we’re not rolling over all the time.
‘But this is a judicial review and is expensive. They cost £20,000 to £30,000 a time. There are some legal firms playing the system, which is a real issue. We need the Government to link things together because their age assessments at the point of entry into the UK are not robust enough.
‘Even if we think young people are adults, we have to get a proper assessment and place them in the right environment – we can’t put them with other children – which takes time and money. Local taxpayers are picking up the tab for what should be coming out of the national pot.’
The Local Government Association said Liverpool’s problems were not unique.
Deputy chairman David Simmonds said: ‘This is a national issue. The process at the border is pretty weak because there is no definitive way of checking age. Lawyers know a judicial review will cost a council between £20,000 and £60,000 and use the threat of court to get their client what they want.
‘Fair play to Liverpool for trying to stand up to it. But win or lose, the taxpayer always loses out.’
According to the report, the 15 asylum seekers correctly identified as children should have been dispersed at their point of entry in the UK by the Home Office and not sent to Liverpool. Failure to assess them earlier has cost taxpayers in the city more than £650,000 in foster placement and accommodation costs.
While Liverpool should be able to recover that from the Government, it is still paying for the other 17 refugees who claim to be under 18 while their cases are assessed.
The report said: ‘If the results are similar to the 39, this could cost Liverpool City Council an additional circa £500,000, on top of the existing £1million.’ Last month, an investigation began after parents at a school in Suffolk complained that an asylum seeker posing as a boy of 15 was attending lessons with their children.
Stoke High School, which is an Ormiston Academy in Ipswich, where some of the parent's concerns were dismissed by staff, who in some cases had claimed the objections were motivated by racism
Siavash Shah, described by pupils as having a beard and looking 30, spent six weeks as a Year 11 pupil at Stoke High School in Ipswich. He is expected to be deported after the Home Office concluded he was older than 18.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Age-disputed cases remain challenging.
‘The Home Office will treat someone claiming to be a child as an adult where their appearance and demeanour very strongly suggests they are significantly over 18.
‘We recognise that local authorities feel funding for supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children remains an issue and that is why it is under review.’