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.