Court of Appeal says refused asylum seekers not ordinary UK residents, therefore not entitled to free NHS care

Michael Carter
Published: 30 March 2009

The UK Court of Appeal has ruled that refused asylum seekers should not be classified as normally resident in the UK and are therefore not entitled to free National Health Service (NHS) treatment and care.

This overturns a judgement in the High Court made in April 2008 that classified refused asylum seekers as normal UK residents.

Refused asylum seekers will now be nominally liable for non-emergency NHS treatment and care, including that provided for HIV.

However, NHS rules mean that refused asylum seekers who have already started a course of treatment are entitled to continue such treatment for free. This includes individuals who have not yet started antiretroviral therapy but who are receiving medical monitoring for their HIV.

Other groups of individuals not classed as ordinary residents include those who have over-stayed their visa and undocumented migrants.

The Court of Appeal did however find that the Department of Health had acted illegally in not providing clear guidance regarding the writing-off of debts of individuals who were destitute and unable to pay for NHS care.

"We are very disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal. There are probably hundreds of thousands of people living in the UK who are unable to access affordable healthcare. This undermines social cohesion, increases avoidable illness and death, harms vulnerable children and older people, and contributes to the spread of infectious disease”, said Deborah Jack of the National AIDS Trust.

Information on access to NHS care for recent migrants and those of uncertain migration status can be found here.