THE State will be faced with a huge surge in the cost of looking after asylum seekers if it loses a test case in the courts against the current direct provision system.
There are also fears that the changes will result in a big increase in the number of asylum seekers coming here.
Under the direct provision system, asylum seekers are housed and fed in special accommodation centres around the country.
The full-board accommodation is paid for by the State, but residents of the centres are also given an allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child a week and can seek emergency funding from the Department of Social Protection.
However, they are not allowed to look for a job and are not entitled to social welfare benefits.
At the moment, there are 4,425 residents in the 34 centres, which are situated in 16 counties and have a contracted capacity of 5,300. This has fallen from a total of 7,030 in the centres in January 2009.
But it is not known exactly how many asylum seekers are living here outside of the direct provision system.
The number of applications for refugee status here has dropped massively over the past decade from a high of 11,634 in 2002 to 956 last year, with only 472 recorded for the first half of this year.
The High Court challenge to direct provision is listed for next week and is being taken by a family of six.
They have been living in direct provision accommodation for more than four years.
Lawyers for the family will argue that the scheme is unlawfully established.
They will also claim that it operates unlawfully by ministerial circulars and administrative arrangements, without any statutory underpinning, and amounts to a parallel system for dealing with asylum seekers.
They say there is no statutory basis for the payment of this allowance or for the setting of the amounts paid and that direct provision, by excluding them from receiving basic social welfare payments, violates their rights to private and family life under the Constitution and under the European Convention of Human Rights.
The case is being taken against the Ministers for Justice and Social Protection and the Attorney General, who, the family say, have no legislative authority to determine and control such far-reaching matters of fundamental importance to their personal, educational and business/career lives.
The average cost per person per day for standard direct provision accommodation services is €29.46. Expenditure last year amounted to €62.3m while the budget allocation for this year was fixed at €57.5m.
A "value for money" report drawn up by the Departments of Finance and Justice and the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) looked at alternative options to direct provision.
It concluded that "if conditions for entitlement to social welfare and rent allowance were changed, then those not currently availing of RIA accommodation would be expected to apply for these payments, which would more than double the projected allowance cost."