A black market has sprung up, aided by some shopkeepers. Under new legislation, asylum seekers receive£10 a week in cash and the rest - between£35 and£57, depending on age - in vouchers.
A reporter bought two£10 vouchers, redeemable at Tesco, from a 26-year-old Kurdish man living in Harrow for£8 each. Supplied by Sodexho, a French-based company, the vouchers cannot be spent on alcohol, cigarettes or petrol. 'I have no choice,' the Kurd said. 'The cash I get is just not enough and I feel humiliated using (the vouchers). I want to celebrate my birthday with friends, and you can't use vouchers in pubs.'
Another asylum seeker, from Albania, living in a hostel in Leeds, said the trade in vouchers was widespread. 'Some people sell all they get. Some shopkeepers will give you cash, and take their cut. You get£7, sometimes£8.'
The home office said it would investigate the trade.