In a test case, three London boroughs are challenging a High Court judge's ruling that local councils have a duty to provide shelter and 'the basics for survival' to asylum seekers who are in need of care and attention while their claims for refugee status are considered by the Government.
Last October, Mr Justice Collins held that councils must help people who are denied emergency aid as part of the Government's bid to curb bogus asylum applications by refusing payments to those who fail to immediately claim asylum at their port of entry.
The judge said he could not believe Parliament intended that someone who was lawfully in the UK as an asylum seeker, even tough he had not applied upon entry, should be left 'destitute, starving and at risk of grave illness and even death'.
He said the councils had assessed the four men as able-bodied and mentally sound, but without means of supporting themselves.
This did not qualify them under the 1948 Act as persons who 'by reason of age, illness, disability or any other circumstances' were in need of care and attention entitling them to accommodation.
He said the judge had held that the words 'any other circumstance' were intended to cover any unforeseen eventualities and ensure there was a safety net for those in need.
That was a misinterpretation of the Act, Mr Beloff told Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lords Justices Waite and Henry.
No doubt the Government, in introducing its benefit restrictions last year, thought extreme measures were required to frustrate the desire of bogus asylum seekers to make use of welfare services at the expense of tax-payers, he said.
As a consequence, many asylum seekers were faced with the choice between starvation and being sent back to the country in which they claimed to have been persecuted.
But that did not justify shifting the burden on local authorities, he said.
The hearing, in which the Government also challenges the High Court decision, continues.