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The current Reception Conditions Directive adopted in 2013 is a recast of the Council Directive 2003/9/CE on minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers. The deadline for Member States to transpose the Directive into national law was 20 July 2015.
The Directive aims to provide a more harmonised standard for the reception of applicants, which should ensure a dignified standard of living and comparable living conditions in all Member States. Still, in line with Article 4, Member States may introduce or retain more favourable provisions in the field of reception conditions as long as they are compatible with this Directive.
The Directive applies to all third-country nationals and stateless persons who applied for international protection anywhere in the Member States and in respect of which a final decision has not yet been taken (Article 2). In order to ensure equal treatment of applicants throughout the EU, this Directive applies during all stages and types of procedures concerning applications for international protection, including to asylum-seekers with their transfer pending under the Dublin Regulation (Recital 8).
The Directive ensures access to material reception conditions for applicants, including housing, food, clothing and a daily expenses allowance (Article 2), as well as access to health care, including appropriate mental health care where needed and employment.
The Directive also provides space for Member States to reduce or, in exceptional and duly justified cases, withdraw material reception conditions (Article 20).
In line with the Directive, Member States may detain an applicant, if other less coercive alternative measures cannot be applied effectively. For more information on detention, please check the following Chapter of the Manual.
Member States are obliged to take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons (such as minors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, elderly people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, victims of human trafficking, persons with serious illnesses, persons with mental disorders and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, such as victims of female genital mutilation). For this reason, Member States need to conduct an individual assessment of the special reception needs of vulnerable persons. Particular attention is given to unaccompanied minors (Article 24) and victims of torture (Article 25).
Applicants to international protection have a right to access the labour market, at the latest nine months after lodging their application (Article 15(1)). However, for reasons of labour market policies, Member States may give priority to Union citizens, nationals of states parties to the Agreement on the European Economic Area, and to legally resident third-country nationals (Article 15(2)).
In spite of the Directive, asylum seekers today have very different reception conditions across Europe. In some countries their basic needs are not met and asylum seekers face significant obstacles to access employment, education and health care.
In Cimade et Gisti (C-179/11) the CJEU ruled that Council Directive 2003/9 laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers in the Member States must be interpreted as meaning that a Member State, in receipt of an application for asylum, is obliged to grant the minimum conditions for reception of asylum seekers as laid down in the Directive even to an asylum seeker in respect of whom it decides to call upon another Member State, as the Member State responsible for examining his application for asylum, to take charge of or take back that applicant. The obligation ceases only when that applicant has actually been transferred by the requesting Member State.
The general scheme and purpose of Directive 2003/9 and the observance of fundamental rights, in particular the requirements of Article 1 of the Charter, under which human dignity must be respected and protected, preclude an asylum seeker from being deprived — even for a temporary period of time after the making of the application for asylum and before being actually transferred to the Member State responsible — of the protection of the minimum standards laid down by that Directive. The CJEU restated that the provisions of Directive 2003/9 must be interpreted in the light of the general scheme and purpose of the Directive and in accordance with recital 5 in the preamble to that Directive, while respecting the fundamental rights and observing the principles recognised in particular by the Charter. Having in mind the requirements of Article 1 of the Charter, under which human dignity must be respected and protected, the asylum seeker may not be deprived — even for a temporary period of time after the making of the application for asylum and before being actually transferred to the responsible Member State — of the protection of the minimum standards laid down by that Directive.
In Saciri (C-79/13) the Court had to decide on the case of the Saciri family, who had lodged an asylum application in Belgium, in October 2010, and was told by Belgian authorities (Fedasil), that they could not be provided with accommodation and directed to the competent centre for social welfare. Unable to find housing, the family sought financial aid from the centre for social welfare but this was refused because they were supposed to be at the state reception facilities, despite the fact that such housing was unavailable. The Saciri family brought an application for interim measures before the court against the Fedasil and centre for social welfare. The court ordered Fedasil and the centre for social welfare to offer the Saciri family reception facilities and to pay them an amount as financial aid respectively. Fedasil placed the family in a reception centre for asylum seekers. The Saciri family appealed against the decision of Fedasil and the social welfare centre before the Labour Court in Leuven. The Court declared the action against the social welfare centre to be unfounded, while ordering Fedasil to pay the Saciri family the sum of EUR 2.961,27. Fedasil appealed against that judgment before the Brussels Higher Labour Court. On appeal against this order, the Brussels Higher Labour Court sought clarification from the CJEU.
The Brussels Higher Labour Court asked, whether a Member State which grants the material reception conditions in the form of financial allowances (and not in kind) is bound to award those allowances from the time of the introduction of the asylum application "while ensuring that the amount of those allowances is such as to enable asylum seekers to obtain accommodation, in compliance with the conditions laid down in Articles 13(1) and (2) and 14(1), (3), (5) and (8) of that Directive". In that regard, the CJEU recalls that the period during which the material reception conditions must be provided is to begin when the asylum seeker applies for asylum. Furthermore, the general scheme and purpose of Directive 2003/9 and the observance of fundamental rights, in particular the requirements of Article 1 of the Charter, under which human dignity must be respected and protected, preclude the asylum seeker from being deprived — even for a temporary period of time after the making of the application for asylum and before being actually transferred to the responsible Member State — of the protection of the minimum standards laid down by that Directive.
Subsequently, the CJEU states that the financial aid granted must be sufficient to ensure a dignified standard of living, adequate for the health of applicants and capable of ensuring their subsistence. In addition, the Court states that the Member States are required to adjust the reception conditions to the situation of persons having specific needs, as referred to in Article 17 of the Directive. Accordingly, the financial allowances must be sufficient to preserve family unity and the best interests of the child meaning that the amount of the allowances must enable minor children to be housed with their parents.
The material reception conditions laid down in Article 14(1), (3), (5) and (8) of Directive 2003/9 do not apply to the Member States, who have opted to grant those conditions in the form of financial allowances only. Nevertheless, the amount of those allowances must be sufficient to enable minor children to be housed with their parents, so that the family unity of the asylum seekers may be maintained.
The CJEU also held that where the accommodation facilities specifically for asylum seekers are overloaded, the Member States might refer the asylum seekers to bodies within the general public assistance system, provided that that system ensures that the minimum standards laid down in Reception Directive are met.
The Reception Directive but also national law must be interpreted in the light of the Charter. The Preamble of the Directive (recital 35) states that the Reception Directive respects the fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised in particular by the Charter. In particular, the Directive seeks to ensure full respect for human dignity and to promote the application of Articles 1, 4, 6, 7, 18, 21, 24 and 47 of the Charter and has to be implemented accordingly In Cimade the CJEU noted in reference to the Reception Conditions Directive, in order to observe fundamental rights, the right to human dignity must be respected and protected — asylum seekers may not be deprived, even for a temporary period of time, of the protection of the minimum standards laid down by that Directive. In Saciri, the CJEU found that the financial support provided by the state must be sufficient to ensure a dignified standard of living and it must be sufficient to preserve family unity and the best interests of the child. In both of these cases the Court made reference to the Article 1 of the Charter referring to the need to observe fundamental rights of applicants.
The ECRE has also developed a paper on how Reception Conditions Directive read in light of the Article 41 and Article 47 of the Charter can ensure better protection for those seeking international protection. 
 Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast)
 ECRE (2013): An examination of the Reception Conditions Directive and its recast in light of Article 41 and 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, available at: https://www.peacepalacelibrary.nl/ebooks/files/37081911X.pdf