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Asylum casework inspection report reveals mishandling of cases, secret ministerial directions


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This is our write up of the first of the Home Secretary’s recent dump of the much delayed reports from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

The one point I will make from the outset is that anyone who is working on Albanian claims should read the relevant parts of section 7 in full. Much of it we were already aware of but even I was open mouthed at some of what has gone on behind the scenes.

This inspection looked at asylum decision making since the implementation of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. I have outlined some of the key points below, particularly relating to backlog clearance, inadmissibility and quality assurance.

Backlog clearance operations

The legacy backlog was split up into different cohorts for processing. In October 2022 Operation AMESA had been introduced to process claims from the five nationalities with a grant rate of 95% or higher, namely Afghan, Eritrean, Libyan, Syrian and Yemeni. The streamlined asylum processing questionnaire was then used for this cohort from February 2023. Home Office data on the streamlined process showed that as of 27 October of the 15,650 people with legacy asylum claims, 84% had been granted either asylum or humanitarian protection, 7% had been withdrawn and 128 cases had been refused.

In response to stakeholder concerns about the lack of consultation prior to the introduction of the streamlined process, senior managers in Asylum Operations told inspectors that they had been given a ministerial direction to neither consult on the process nor to share details about it.

At paragraph 7.29 of the report, participants in a focus group including legal representatives and support organisations raised concerns about the withdrawal of claims when the person concerned had not received the questionnaire. One example given was of a Libyan national in Home Office accommodation who was made aware in October 2023 that their asylum support was being stopped because their asylum claim had been withdrawn. And as I am sure will be familiar to many of those reading this: “Despite repeated attempts by the legal representative to contact the Home Office to rectify the issue, there had been “silence””.

Issues with delivery of biometric residence permits were also raised, together with the issue of newly recognised refugees becoming homeless as their support was being stopped before they received their permit. In many cases, where a person’s support was stopped, as they had not received a decision they did not know whether or not the claim had been successful. This led to lawyers needing to submit late appeals (at paragraph 7.40). Stakeholders reported “limited, if any” response from the Home Office when these issues were raised.

Operation BRIDORA was established in December 2022 to process claims from Albanian nationals, when there were more than 12,000 outstanding cases. At paragraph 7.60 of the report it states that “between 9 January and 12 November 2023, a total of 15,955 outcomes had been made on claims from Albanians, 9,863 (61.82%) of which were withdrawals, 4,549 (28.51%) were refusals and 498 (3.12%) were grants of asylum or another type of leave”.

Between February and May 2023 all but two of the decision making units were allocated to this work (paragraph 7.60). The decision to prioritise these cases was viewed internally as a cause for delays in processing claims from other cases in the legacy backlog. The inspectors queried whether this had delivered the expected benefits, given that by 13 November 2023 245 Albanians had been removed on charter flights.

All other nationalities were dealt with as Operation MAKHU. On inspection of a random sample of these cases, inspectors saw that correspondence was not being accurately recorded and interview records were missing from the system. Inspectors also noted inconsistent record keeping, record duplications and discrepancies between the caseworking systems (paragraph 8.24).


Home Office data showed that 72% of the 28,560 people referred for consideration of inadmissibility were later admitted into the asylum system. People were spending an average of five months sitting in the inadmissibility process before their claims entered the asylum system, but “a significant number” waited for longer than six months and some for over a year.

Anyone in the group of up to 7,500 cases that were being considered for Rwanda was likely to spend longer than six months in the inadmissibility process. The Home Office told the inspectors that no action would be taken on the cases until the Supreme Court’s decision in the Rwanda litigation. This meant that some people had been waiting almost two years without their asylum claim even entering the process.

Since that decision, these cases had “effectively been left in indefinite limbo”. To make matters worse, the Home Office does not proactively notify people if they are in this cohort (the Home Office disputed this). Anyone who suspects their case is in that group should contact the Home Office and ask them for a progress update as that appeared to be how many people were finding out.

By October 2023, only two people had been removed from the UK under the inadmissibility process (0.002%). “Staff told inspectors that the inadmissibility process was “pointless” and that no action was taken on a claim unless the claimant had travelled through one of the four ‘safe’ countries that had a returns agreement with the UK.” One senior manager said that the focus on the Rwanda agreement had meant that the third country unit was unable to dedicate resources to cases where there was a better chance of removal.

Inspectors stated the obvious, that the process needs an overhaul and that people should not be placed into the inadmissibility process where there is no prospect of them being sent to a ‘safe’ third country.

Quality assurance

Across all asylum decisions, there is a requirement that 3.5% are quality checked but this was not met in 2023. Only one withdrawal decision was quality checked between January and October 2023, despite concerns having been raised earlier in the year.

When inspectors looked at 49 implicit withdrawal decisions, they considered 57% of them to be unsatisfactory (paragraph 10.42), including four (8%) where the invitation to interview letter and the failure to attend interview letter were produced and sent on the same day. A manager said that “a lot” of claims were being re-instated because they had been withdrawn due to a failure by the Asylum Intake Unit to properly record their information (paragraph 10.47).

Certain types of decisions always require a “second pair of eyes” to quality assure them, such as refusals where there is a medico-legal report or an unaccompanied asylum seeking child. One of the types of decisions that also had this quality check was the certification of claims as “clearly unfounded” under section 94(1) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, for claims made by people from certain countries, including Albania. Since the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the effect of this certification is that the decision cannot be appealed.

Because of the consequences of these decisions, until April 2023 there was a legal requirement that the decisions were authorised by an appropriately qualified caseworker. It was felt that this was slowing down the processing of claims in Operation BRIDORA and so on 17 April 2023 the Immigration Minister announced that claims certified as clearly unfounded under section 94 would no longer need to be checked by a second specially trained official.

In relation to the new versions of the country policy information notes that were published on Albania in January 2023, even the decision makers were concerned about the changes, with this quote provided from one of them:

There was a brand new CPIN written when I was on holiday and massive changes brought in; suddenly it looked like trafficked women can go back after all and there is sufficiency of protection; suddenly we are sending trafficked women back.

Managers in the team in charge of that policy note told inspectors that while they had not been “directly told” to amend the note so that it would be more difficult for Albanians to be recognised as refugees, it had been “hard to avoid the indirect pressure” (at paragraph 7.72).

Once Operation BRIDORA was underway, decision makers were told that they were no longer authorised to implement any grants for Albanians, even where the decision had been written (if that sounds familiar, this is may be why). The managers reported that “a decision had been taken at ministerial level that no more than 2% of Albanian claims should be successful”.

Workflow and case progression

A new process, called the “concise interview project” was negatively affected by a lack of transparency from the team that introduced it. The report states at paragraph 8.47 that as of November 2023 the claims being processed in this way were nationals from Cameroon, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Pakistan (female only), Somalia (female only), Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam (female only).

There was a lack of clarity as to how it linked to the streamlined asylum process or which people it was being applied to which made it difficult for lawyers to advise their clients. The interviews required people to provide information that had already been provided yet also failed to ask follow-up questions and lawyers raised concerns about the process delivering poor decisions.

This project is now being rolled out more widely, as the Home Office told inspectors that they intend to use it to clear the flow cases.

Performance management

In March 2023, staff were told that straightforward interviews should be completed within two hours. Both decision makers and legal representatives criticised this, as it negatively impacted on the quality of decisions. Legal representatives pointed out that these poor quality interviews were directly leading to more appeals needing to be lodged.

Recruitment and workforce

The recruitment of new decision makers (Operation SOGALLA), to meet the target of 2,500 was described as “a significant achievement”, however this was not accompanied by recruitment in other key support and technical roles. One decision making unit had one administrative staff member who was supporting 69 decision makers and no technical specialists. The “relentless focus on clearing the legacy backlog” affected staff morale and 60% who responded to the survey said they wanted to leave as soon as possible or within the next year.


The following recommendations were made:

1 Previous inspection recommendations

a) Introduce, as a matter of urgency, a published service standard for deciding asylum claims.

2 Vulnerability and safeguarding

a) Identify vulnerable claimants in the asylum work in progress (WIP) queue and prioritise their claims.

3 Inadmissibility

a) Review the inadmissibility WIP (including the Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) cohort) to ensure that only claimants who have a realistic prospect of removal from the UK are considered under the process.

b) Ensure claimants are informed in writing when their claim is referred for consideration under the inadmissibility or MEDP process.

4 Training

a) Confirm and implement the delineation of decision maker training and consolidation responsibilities between the training team and decision-making units.

b) Use feedback from decision-making units and stakeholders to continually review and update the training provided to Asylum Operations staff.

5 Management information and data

a) Implement the routine collection of data on vulnerability and protected characteristics to inform equality impact assessments and the Home Office’s understanding of how policies impact protected groups.

b) Streamline the collation of management information to provide a single source of accurate and real-time data.

6 Quality assurance

a) Ensure that routine quality assurance assessments are carried out on all asylum interviews and decisions, including withdrawn claims since December 2022, to ensure the 3.5% target is met.


The Home Office states that it has accepted or partially accepted all six of these recommendations. Compliance even with recommendations that have been accepted has historically been patchy at best, and often poor.

It also appears that some recommendations have been deliberately misunderstood as, for example, the Home Office appears to believe that its current use of the inadmissibility process is in line with the inspector’s recommendations. This is very much not the case as we know that Rwanda does not have capacity to accept the thousands of people who have are in that cohort and so it is not sensible to say that there is a realistic prospect of their removal from the UK.

The Home Office response to these reports is therefore of limited practical use, however the reports themselves are as vital as ever.

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Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.