The Home Office was deciding applications for asylum support fairly, but a poorly managed organisational change had led to deterioration in service, and an increase in the number of recipients of asylum support. In his report on Asylum Support the Chief Inspector also found that there was no effective strategy in place to identify and tackle asylum support fraud.
People claiming asylum in the UK can also apply to the Home Office for asylum support to help with their essential living needs. Such support consists of financial assistance, accommodation or both, with a budget of £155 million in 2013/14. At the end of September 2013, 22,022 asylum seekers were receiving support under Section 95 and 4,709 failed asylum seekers and their dependents were being supported under Section 4. This inspection examined the Home Office’s efficiency and effectiveness in its delivery of its asylum support functions.
The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:
• the decision to grant or refuse asylum support was reasonable in 90% of cases sampled. Staff assessed destitution fairly when considering applications for asylum support;
• in 12 cases where an appeal was lodged, only two (17%) were allowed by the First-Tier Tribunal;
• staff at the Asylum Screening Unit were committed to safeguarding vulnerable individuals;
• the average waiting time for an appointment had decreased between April 2012 and June 2013, although the system was showing signs of strain due to increasing numbers of applications;
• the IT systems used by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) were largely fit for purpose.
However, the Chief Inspector was concerned that:
• UKVI had not established an effective counter fraud regime. It did not have a strategy setting out how it would tackle asylum support fraud, nor had it determined the scale and nature of the risks it posed;
• resource management was haphazard and regional Fraud and Compliance teams (FCTs) operated autonomously, and were not suitably trained to undertake investigative work;
• 11 fraud cases failed to adhere to key aspects of guidance. This meant that cases of suspected fraud were not always investigated effectively;
• the absence of a debt recovery strategy also meant overpayment recovery was not being pursued effectively;
• only 11 out of 23 investigations (48%) were concluded within UKVI target times. In 20 of 49 cases (41%) where asylum support was granted UKVI had missed the Home Office’s target of making a decision within five days;
• 52% of the cases granted support were not being reviewed regularly in order to establish whether recipients were still eligible for support;
• an increasing asylum intake and a significant loss of staff in the Asylum Casework Directorate over a relatively short period of time, had led to a 55% increase in cases receiving asylum support under Section 4 between April 2012 and December 2013;
• the exodus of experienced staff had occurred as a result of a poorly managed restructuring exercise that was repeatedly put on hold and finally halted as UKVI had failed to realise the risks involved with such a significant organisational change;
• the introduction of the Biometric Residence Permit, had negatively affected UKVI’s ability to terminate asylum support in a timely manner;
• caseworkers found it difficult to check whether asylum support applicants were receiving benefits from other government departments, such as DWP and HMRC;
• guidance was extensive, had overlapping content and the majority of it not been updated for several years.
The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM, said:
“The administration of asylum support represents a significant challenge for the Home Office. It must balance the need to provide assistance to vulnerable applicants against the public interest in deterring fraudulent support claims.
Although decision making was good in the cases I examined, once again a poorly managed organisational change had led to deterioration in service, and an increase in the number of recipients of asylum support.
I found no evidence that the Home Office had an effective strategy to identify and tackle fraud in the asylum support system. Work had not been undertaken to determine what its exposure to fraud risk was. No attempt had been made to ensure Fraud and Compliance teams operated in a consistent manner and there were insufficient resources dedicated to this work. As a result opportunities to identify and deter those wishing to commit fraud were lost.
Almost half of my recommendations in this report relate to improvements in tackling fraud. The Home Office must ensure these are implemented swiftly and effectively.”
The Chief Inspector made 11 recommendations to the Home Office. These included, urgently resolving the backlog of outstanding further submissions, particularly where asylum support is in payment, and providing sufficient resources to manage and implement effective counter fraud measures to deter abuse of the asylum support system.