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Borders Inspector “frustrated” by lack of action from Home Office
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The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Neal, has expressed his frustration at the Home Office’s inability properly and promptly to address report recommendations in his comments published yesterday alongside the annual report for 2021-22.
The annual report was sent to the Home Secretary on 8 July 2022, just days before the end of the business year. That was now nine months ago, but the report has only just been published by the Home Office this week. This pattern of disregard for the inspectorate and its findings is mirrored in individual reports.
Neal expresses his disappointment in the Home Office’s failure to lay inspection reports in Parliament within agreed timescales in general:
“As examples, the annual report cited the lack of a published service standard for asylum decisions, months after the Home Office had accepted a recommendation to reintroduce one ‘as a matter of urgency’, and the lack of ‘effective consultation methods with local authorities… prior to the establishment of contingency asylum accommodation’, even after the department had committed to develop such methods.”
He goes on to draw specific attention to lack of action in the asylum system:
Months after I pointed to these examples, I am frustrated that there is still no published service standard for asylum decisions, and I am sure that many local authorities would agree that the Home Office’s approach to engagement with them on the placement of asylum accommodation sites still requires improvement.”
Across the year 2021-2022, 69 recommendations were made in these reports, of which the Home Office accepted 39, and partially accepted 18. However although the Home Office regularly provide written comments suggesting they will action the recommendations published, they do not necessarily or often commit to any specific steps or processes to do so, even where such steps are set out in recommendations.
What makes the lack of action from the Home Office more disappointing is that a lot of the recommendations produced in individual reports actually cover many of the same issues. You can find all individual reports by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration here.
Inspections found that at times “the Home Office struggling to maintain and deliver existing workstreams as unforeseen developments and shifting priorities have led to the redirection of attention and resources”. Delays to the implementation of recommendations from the first Adult at Risk report due to COVID-19 disruptions and the secondment of many Home Office staff to the response to small boats is evident. As is frustration with the extent and development of asylum casework.
Inspections continue to find poor record keeping and use of data in both immigration and asylum work. Home Office units regularly rely on insufficient and often inconsistently maintained local excel spreadsheets to record and hold data.
The introduction of a new caseworking system, called Atlas, has helped a little, but apparently many Home Office staff still lack confidence in running this system. Where the system is being used, the information that is stored on the electronic case files on Atlas is often incomplete and difficult to access. The Inspector says he is concerned “that caseworkers’ inability to record specific details on individuals will lead to important information being lost, hindering the department’s ability to meet its post-Windrush commitment to seeing ‘the face behind the case’”.
Several inspections also highlighted areas in which the Home Office could do more to identify, safeguard, and generally meet the needs of vulnerable people. For example, whether front-end services for visa applicants are sufficiently accessible for vulnerable customers. Inspections at border control also found that there was little awareness of when vulnerable individuals entered the UK through e-gates.
This issue is most acute where Home Office safeguarding responsibilities stand side-by-side with immigration control objectives, such as the detention of a vulnerable person for the purpose of removal:
“One of the department’s ‘priority outcomes’ is to ‘tackle illegal migration, remove those with no right to be here and protect the vulnerable’, but in practice the third of those objectives can be to some extent at odds with the first two.”
Since the annual report relating to the period 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022 was written, the Inspector has met with the current Home Secretary only once, in November 2022. The Inspector considers this “a missed opportunity on her part”, especially given that her incoming appointment might have rendered a new opportunity for cooperation with the Inspectorate, and a refreshed look at some of the recommendations.
The inspections aim to review the efficiency and effectiveness of the performance of functions relating to immigration, asylum, nationality and customs by the Secretary of State or any person acting on her behalf. If the issues raised in the reports are not discussed because of the delays to publication the frustration around them will continue to grow. And if recommendations are not actioned, and alternatives not sought by the Home Office no progress will be made. What is the point of the Inspectorate, if not to keep Home Office processes and procedures in check?