From April 2022 the Home Office has moved to using telephone reporting as a mainstream reporting alternative. This follows on from changes implemented on an emergency basis during the pandemic lockdown and sustained lobbying by migrants rights groups. People who are given a telephone appointment slot will be notified of this decision and the process will be explained in writing, albeit only in English.
The upside for those given the new telephone reporting condition is that they do not have to travel on expensive and time-consuming journeys. It avoids the stress and anxiety caused by wasting time on “very brief exchanges that did not allow for meaningful interactions” (Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration 2021 inspection of reporting at Becket House).
The downside is that there is an element of unpredictability with telephone reporting. People who often have very limited financial resources will be at the mercy of digital technology they may struggle to afford. People without legal status may struggle to afford reliable mobile phones, to access indoor phone charging points or private spaces with good phone signal. Some people prefer the certainty of in-person contacts.
The other downside is people could be given a very wide window where they are expected to wait for a single phone call. If an unreasonably long window is given then we recommend that people complain.
Section 61 of the Immigration Act 2016 introduced the concept of immigration bail. Bail conditions can be imposed by a Tribunal, but even when they are they are often transferred to the Home Office to manage. They can also be imposed directly by an immigration officer, even if a person has never been in detention. The details of immigration bail are set out in Schedule 10 to the 2016 Act:
2(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (2), if immigration bail is granted to a person, it must be granted subject to one or more of the following conditions—
(a) a condition requiring the person to appear before the Secretary of State or the First-tier Tribunal at a specified time and place;
(b) a condition restricting the person’s work, occupation or studies in the United Kingdom;
(c) a condition about the person’s residence;
(d) a condition requiring the person to report to the Secretary of State or such other person as may be specified;
(e) an electronic monitoring condition (see paragraph 4);
(f) such other conditions as the person granting the immigration bail thinks fit.
The factors to be considered when setting a bail condition are varied:
3(1) The Secretary of State or the First-tier Tribunal must have regard to the matters listed in sub-paragraph (2) in determining—
(a) whether to grant immigration bail to a person, and
(b) the conditions to which a person’s immigration bail is to be subject.
(2) Those matters are—
(a) the likelihood of the person failing to comply with a bail condition,
(b) whether the person has been convicted of an offence (whether in or outside the United Kingdom or before or after the coming into force of this paragraph),
(c) the likelihood of a person committing an offence while on immigration bail,
(d) the likelihood of the person’s presence in the United Kingdom, while on immigration bail, causing a danger to public health or being a threat to the maintenance of public order,
(e) whether the person’s detention is necessary in that person’s interests or for the protection of any other person, and
(f) such other matters as the Secretary of State or the First-tier Tribunal thinks relevant.
Under condition (f) any relevant matters can be considered including the best interests of a child or the person’s own welfare.
The problem with the physical reporting requirement
In 2020 we at Migrants Organise worked with Public Law Project, with funding from the Strategic Legal Fund, to produce research on the impact of bail conditions. In short we found that onerous and open-ended reporting conditions were being imposed in an unfair and blanket way.
Examples of the cases looked at in the research included a recognised survivor of trafficking and single mother of two young children. Her five-year-old is autistic and has significant difficulties in public and crowded places. When distressed, he would start shouting and crying, or refusing to move. She had been reporting for four years.
Another case was an asylum seeker and victim of trafficking. She was accommodated by her friend in Hertfordshire but received s95 NASS subsistence support (so her income was roughly £5/day). She was required to report at Eaton House in Hounslow every month. The journey cost £21.80 and took around four hours in total.
The research also found that these onerous reporting conditions could not be justified. The rate of absconding was extremely low (in 2018 it was 3%) and bail conditions were not being set in line with risk, for example there were 456 children reporting on immigration bail, 97 of whom were asylum seekers (presumably in their first asylum claim).
Legal representatives will recognise these situations or may have clients who have been reporting so long that they do not even think to mention it to their lawyer.
Lobbying for change
Following this research a group of NGOs led by the Helen Bamber Foundation and Migrants Organise wrote to the Home Office to request that immigration reporting be suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that the whole process be reviewed.
NGOs met with Home Office officials over subsequent months to discuss alternatives to burdensome face-to-face reporting. The Home Office kept in touch with people through telephone calls instead of reporting during lockdowns and trialled telephone reporting. The Home Office introduced interim guidance due to Covid-19 which specified reduced categories of people who could still be asked to attend face to face reporting (such as criminal casework cases with a significant risk profile or people identified for removal).
Telephone reporting has now been rolled out as a standard option. It is described as a blended model where there will still be some occasional face-to-face reporting and then most staying in touch can be done by phone call. The Covid-19 interim guidance remains in place at the moment, but is due to be replaced shortly by updated guidance.
Requesting changes to reporting conditions
The Home Office website states “You cannot request telephone reporting yourself”, but in reality people who would be assisted by telephone reporting should ask for it.
Anyone can make a request to vary their bail conditions (the criteria for selecting bail conditions are those set out above) and these requests can be made verbally at a reporting event or in person. See also page 61 of the Home Office’s Immigration bail policy. For disabled people impacted adversely by reporting a bail variation request could include a request for reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
It is important to note that there is no duty to impose a reporting condition as a condition of bail – whether by telephone or face to face. The policy states only that the bail conditions imposed must:
- take into account the facts of the individual case
- enable the Home Office to maintain appropriate levels of contact with the individual
- reduce the risk of non-compliance, including absconding
- minimise potential delay in the Home Office becoming aware of any noncompliance
- be in furtherance of facilitating the individual’s return
As such, there will be circumstances where a reporting condition is inappropriate and unnecessary. For people on bail at least one condition needs to be imposed, but, for instance, for a victim of trafficking who is supported in an NRM safe house, the Home Office could instead impose a residency condition, if they place the person on bail at all.