How to seek asylum in the UK

By Clara Connolly
4 MARCH 2021

If you needed asylum, would you know what to do? The Home Office has published guidance in various languages on how to claim asylum in the UK. Here we try to explain the process as simply as we can.

First, you have to be inside the country to claim asylum in the UK. Make the asylum claim as soon as possible after you arrive. Apply at the port of entry if possible—just say to the border enforcement officer, ‘I want to apply for asylum.’

If you are arrested, tell the police, ‘I want to apply for asylum,’ and they will arrange for an immigration officer. Or if you are detained, tell the authorities the same, and they should arrange for an immigration visit.

Otherwise, if you have already entered legally or undetected, make the claim in person by phoning the Home Office for an appointment at Lunar House in Croydon, London. The phone number is currently 020 8196 4524. You will receive a call back on the number you have used, with instructions on when and where to come to a first interview, officially called an ‘asylum intake’ interview. You can ask for an interpreter to call back.

Asylum Intake Interview

This first interview is not a full asylum interview—it is just to find out details of you and your family, and of how and when you arrived in the UK.
  • You should bring a passport or other ID document.
  • Bring any details of medical treatment you are receiving or you need.
  • If you have family members with you, bring them too.
You should be given an interpreter if you asked for one during the first phone call.

You will be asked why you want to claim asylum. Make a short one-sentence answer with as few details as possible. For example, ‘I am afraid of the regime in my country,’ or ‘I am afraid of the authorities in my region of the country.’

If you are in detention, tell them if you have been tortured. You should then receive a medical examination which will help with release.

Your fingerprints will be taken, and you will be asked to surrender your passport if you have one, or to give an explanation if you don’t.

You should be given a record of interview at the end.

You don’t need legal advice before your asylum intake interview—just stick to short and accurate answers to the questions asked, and bring a copy of the record of interview to your lawyer. See Legal Aid below.

Asylum Registration Card

You should be given an Asylum Registration Card which acts as ID for now. This will give you access to free medical treatment, and the right to register with a doctor in your local area. The Asylum Registration Card also allows access to asylum support—see Asylum Support below. If you are homeless and without resources, you can ask for immediate asylum support, and will probably be sent to a nearby hostel.

You will be given a document saying that you are on immigration bail. That means you can lawfully stay in the UK but on certain terms such as regular reporting to an Immigration Centre. The Asylum Registration Card does not allow you to work.

Asylum Support

Asylum seekers without resources are entitled to accommodation and support while their claim (including any appeal) continues. Government information on asylum support is here:

The accommodation is provided outside London unless very exceptional circumstances apply.

The personal allowance is currently £37.75 per week, for each person in the household, and with some extras for pregnant women and mothers of children under three years old. If you are accommodated with family or friends, you can apply for the personal allowance only.

A limited form of asylum support can be obtained after the last asylum appeal has failed, if you cannot be sent back to your country of origin (due to war, pandemic, lack of documents, or other reasons).

There is a helpline for destitute asylum seekers: 0808 8000 631, Monday to Friday, 8am to 5.30pm, but call charges apply.

Lawyers are often reluctant to make asylum support applications, but community workers and NGOS may agree to help. Here is a link to the application form:

And here is a link to non government organisations that support refugees:

Legal Aid

Asylum seekers without money are entitled to free legal assistance, for your asylum claim and during any appeal, as well as for bail applications if you are detained, and for any legal challenge if you are given a ‘removal notice’ to remove you from the UK.

If you are on asylum support or detained, you are automatically eligible for legal aid, otherwise you have to provide evidence of income/financial support. To qualify, you should not have more than £733 per month to live on, after your rent is paid and allowances for partner and/or children are deducted.

Do not borrow money to pay for legal fees if you are broke—the best and most experienced immigration lawyers are free!

Use this list to find a legal aid lawyer in your area. Just type in your postcode and click the ‘immigration’ box:

It is best to wait until you are moved to your asylum accommodation to do this. Lawyers are reluctant to take you on in their area, if they know you are going to be moved in the near future.

If you are detained, ask for a free appointment with a legal aid lawyer. There may be a queue, because the few firms with a franchise to visit detention centres are in demand, but be patient!

You don’t need legal advice before your ‘asylum intake’ interview—just stick to short and accurate answers to the questions asked, and bring a copy of the record of interview to your lawyer.

Asylum Interview


You will receive a letter giving the date and place of asylum interview. It is supposed to be scheduled within two months of your first asylum intake interview, but there is often a delay. Use the time to find legal advice—see Legal Aid above.

Draft a detailed statement of why you are claiming asylum, which should be your script for the asylum interview.

Obtain documents to support your claim if they exist, such as arrest warrants, witness statements, court documents, and have them translated into English. Legal aid can pay for any translation fees.

If you are from a country which is currently regarded as unsafe, such as Syria, the Home Office may try to argue that you are lying about your nationality in order to obtain asylum, so if you do not have your passport try to obtain other evidence of your nationality.

If you were tortured, and suffering from physical or psychological effects, ask your lawyer to arrange for a medical examination from Freedom from Torture,, or a reputable medical practitioner. Legal aid will pay for the cost of the medical examination, but may be refused by the Legal Aid Agency until the appeal stage.

The interview:

Be prepared for a detailed interview, which may take a number of hours.

You will be on your own, as legal aid lawyers are not funded to attend.

Make sure the interpreter (if you are using one) can understand you.

Ask for breaks if you become distressed, or otherwise need one.

If there is anything you are asked about which is particularly distressing, say that it is hard to talk about. This should be noted on the record.

If you can’t remember something you are asked about, its better to say so than to guess.

If you have entered the UK lawfully, for example on a student visa, explain any delay in claiming asylum.

Give the supporting documents (including your statement) to the interviewer, if they have not already been sent by the lawyer, and make sure they are noted on the interview record.

You will be asked to sign the record of interview at the end of each page. It should be read back to you, but if not ask the interpreter to help, before signing the record.

Asylum Decision

You should receive a decision letter within weeks of interview, but there is often a delay.

Your lawyer can ask for a delay if you have further important evidence to submit (for example a medical report) or if you want to correct the interview record, having read it over properly. If the decision is positive, you will be asked to register biometric details at a named centre or post office, and then you will receive a residence permit with refugee status for five years.

You can then apply for reunion with you for your household abroad, and for a UN Convention Travel Document. You can work, study, and obtain welfare benefits.

At the end of the five years you can apply for permanent residence. You are unlikely to be refused, unless a permanent and significant change has occurred in your country of origin, which means that it is safe to return.

After a further year you can apply for British citizenship.

Asylum Appeal

If the decision is negative, you can appeal:

You have fourteen days to submit a Notice of Appeal to the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal.

Read the Home Office ‘reasons for refusal’ letter, which will tell you what issues you need to raise in your appeal, in order to show that the Home Office made a mistake.

Your legal adviser will assess whether your appeal is likely to succeed, before granting you legal aid for it. Your financial eligibility will be again assessed, and updated financial information will be required. As before, evidence of asylum support is sufficient to qualify.

The Notice of Appeal does not need detailed reasons for appeal, at this stage, given the short notice.

An oral appeal hearing is more likely to be successful than one assessed by a judge on the papers. At present oral hearing are held remotely, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Your lawyer should be able to update you on current procedures.

Other Legal Challenges

If your appeal is refused there are further legal applications, such as an appeal to the Upper Tribunal. For this you will need to be able to show that the judge made a mistake in law not just a factual mistake.

If you are in detention you can make a bail application:

If you have been convicted of the use of false documents to gain entry to the UK, you can appeal once you have obtained refugee status:

If there is a decision to remove you from the UK you can take action to challenge it, usually by way of judicial review, for which you will need a lawyer.

First published online 4 March 2021.
Image: The Cliffs of Dover seen from the English Channel.
Illustration by Kellie Strom.