Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration to Resign

Statement from the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM:

“My Annual Report for 2013/14, which is published in December, will mark six years since I was appointed Chief Inspector and set up this Inspectorate. During that period I have agreed to two extensions to my original term of office at the request of the Home Secretary, and I feel now is the time to move on.

As such, I have informed the Home Secretary of my intention to resign as the Chief Inspector on 31st December 2014.

I am immensely proud of establishing this Inspectorate from scratch, and believe it has been a catalyst for significant change and improvement across the UK’s border and immigration functions. After publishing over 50 inspection reports and making close to 500 recommendations, the time is right for me to seek a new challenge.

I wish to place on record my sincere thanks to the various organisations and individuals I have worked with along the way, and an extra special thanks to my staff – both past and present – in helping me to deliver inspections reports of the highest quality.

By announcing my resignation early I want to give the Home Secretary enough time to appoint a successor and ensure a smooth transition of arrangements.

Leaving at the end of the year and before the next general election, rather than in July 2015 when my term is due to end, makes sense.”

 

 John Vine CBE QPM

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

Poorly Managed Organisational Change Leads to Backlog of Asylum Casework

A poorly managed change programme for asylum casework had resulted in the rapid loss of experienced staff, which led to a backlog of over 13,000 cases by the end of 2013. These were the findings in the Chief Inspector of Border and Immigrations inspection report on Home Office’s Cardiff Asylum Team.

Cardiff is one of ten non-detained asylum casework units across the UK. It receives approximately 8% of the UK’s annual non-detained asylum applications. In 2013, the UK received 23,507 such applications. The inspection of the Cardiff team aimed to gain an insight into the local challenges facing asylum teams, resulting from rising numbers of asylum claims and the impact of organisational change.

The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:

• staff in Cardiff were committed and took their responsibility to safeguard vulnerable individuals seriously;

• there were good communication links between asylum appeals and enforcement teams in Cardiff, this was particularly important in relation to asylum removals;

• staff praised local managers for the support they had provided during a major transition programme in 2012-13;

• recent proposals to revise targets and to improve efficiency had been developed in close consultation with staff.

However, the Chief Inspector also found that:

• proposals to restructure asylum casework announced in early 2013 were suspended in September 2013. This followed the loss of significant numbers of experienced staff, which meant the Cardiff team lost 43% of its case-owners;

• as a result, a national backlog of 13,628 cases awaiting an initial decision developed by the end of 2013 (773 of these cases were in Cardiff). Of these, 6,249 had been awaiting a decision for more than six months;

• in Cardiff, staff’s main focus was on cases they believed could be decided within 30 days. More complex cases were not being referred for interviews and decisions. Instead they joined the backlog;

• applicants, whose cases were not referred to the Cardiff asylum team in a timely manner from the Asylum Screening Unit, potentially lost the opportunity for a quick decision through no fault of their own;

• it was disappointing that the Home Office’s review of its 30 day target for asylum casework, had not happened sooner given the issues we identified had been apparent for many months;

• the Home Office’s aim to eliminate the backlog of cases awaiting initial decision by April 2015, and ensure that almost all applicants would receive a decision within six months was challenging. In order to achieve this, decisions would have to be made in 32,000 cases in 2014-15, a 60% increase in productivity compared to recent years, and with a less experienced workforce.

The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM, said:

“I found that the national backlog of asylum cases awaiting initial decision had grown to over 13,000 – over 750 of which were in Cardiff – because of a poorly managed change programme in 2013. This had led to the rapid loss of experienced staff before it was suspended last September. The Home Office must draw lessons from its poor management of that change to avoid similar mistakes in future.

The Home Office aims to clear the backlog by March 2015. This will be challenging as it will require significantly more asylum decisions to be made in 2014 than have been made in recent years and with a less experienced workforce.

While the Home Office was reviewing its targets for asylum casework, I was disappointed this had not happened sooner given the issues I identified had been apparent for many months.

I intend to conduct a full inspection of asylum casework in early 2015, when I will check progress against these new targets.”

The Chief Inspector made three recommendations for improvement to the Home Office. These included, deciding all asylum applications within published service standards and informing applicants where it is unable to do so, and evaluation of its previous asylum casework change programmes in order to improve its management of future change.

No Effective Home Office Strategy to Tackle Asylum Support Fraud

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.