The Home Office has published a report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration following his team’s Inspection of asylum casework. The inspection took place between August 2020 and May 2021, but the report makes clear that the many problems identified were exacerbated by impact of the Covid-19 pandemic rather than caused by them.
Many of the findings reflect our experience, primarily in the delays people going through the asylum system experience awaiting an outcome of their claim. Worryingly, many of the issues identified had been reported on by previous inspections and managers were aware of them.
The report found that:
- The backlog of cases awaiting an initial decision has continued to increase, along with the length of time people are waiting for an initial decision, with the average number of days increasing from 233 in 2017, to 351 in 2019, and 449 in 2020.
- Despite assurances from the Home Office that claims from unaccompanied children were being prioritised, the length of time taken to make an initial decision increased, peaking at 550 days for those who received a decision in 2020.
- Decision makers told inspectors that their training did not fully equip them with the skills they needed to interview applicants and decide their claims.
- Managers focused too much on the quantity of decisions than the quality. Staff morale is low, staff are feeling burnt out and retention of staff is poor.
- Quality assurance measures are inadequate and were not being applied to some parts of the process.
- Decision makers were not always taking into account information provided by the applicant in the Preliminary information questionnaire during substantive interviews.
- Particular issues were identified with the way decisions were made on claims based on sexual orientation.
Some of the key recommendations include:
- Introduce, as a matter of urgency, a published service standard.
- Prioritise claims for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
- Conduct a detailed and rapid analysis of every asylum claim awaiting an initial decision, focusing on identifying and removing erroneous casework barriers and identifying cases where a grant would be possible without an interview.
- Revisit recommendation four from the 2017 ICIBI inspection of asylum intake and casework, with specific reference to:
b. Substantive interviews and decisions
c. Quality assurance
- Expedite ‘Transformation’ plans specifically relating to the creation of a new digital case prioritisation and allocation tool, and the substantive interview appointment booking tool.
We are pleased to see that most of the recommendations have been accepted by the Home Office and the Independent Chief Inspector commented positively to their reaction and the improvements that have already been put in place, including increasing the number of decision makers, a focus on identifying claims that can be decided without the need for an interview and measures to address the negative culture – all decision makers will be trained to see ‘the face behind the case’, reminding staff that everyone who makes an asylum claim is a person
Responding to the report, Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council said:
“We welcome this Inspection which shines a light into what has been happening in asylum decision making and makes it clear that delays are due neither to the Covid pandemic nor the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats.
Our asylum system should be capable of dealing with the number of asylum applications and of treating people with respect and dignity whilst they wait to rebuild their lives in safety. We are encouraged by the efforts being made to improve the quality and speed of decisions and to address the negative culture that has pervaded the Home Office for many years.
However, the notion that the New Plan for Immigration will improve things could not be further from the truth. The proposed reforms will only add to the current backlog and undermine any positive measures agreed in response to this report.”