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1,000+ Home Office decision-makers to aim for 4 decisions a week to tackle asylum backlog, as only 4 percent of 2021 Channel crossers’ claims have been processed


Home Affairs Committee hears evidence from officials on current issues around small boat arrivals 

Date of Publication:
27 October 2022

Parliament's Home Affairs Committee yesterday heard evidence from three Home Office officials and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration during a session on the issue of asylum seekers and migrants crossing the Channel by small boat.

BoatYou can read the transcript here.

Dan Hobbs, the Home Office's director of Asylum, Protection and Enforcement, told the Committee that 85% of people who arrived by small boat in 2021 and have had their claims decided were granted either refugee status or another protection status.

Abi Tierney, the director general for customer services at the Home Office, followed up by noting that the asylum claims of 96% of those who crossed the Channel last year are still awaiting a decision.

Some 28,526 people arrived by small boat in 2021.

Hobbs clarified: "In those claims that have been substantively considered and have had a decision served, 85% of those who applied in 2021 have had a grant. As we said, though, 96% of those claims remain outstanding. So, it is a small proportion of the arrivals that have had a substantive consideration and a grant."

Committee member Tim Loughton MP said a figure of only 4% of claims processed was "ridiculous". The Refugee Council later said in a statement that 4% was "appalling and indicative of an asylum system in urgent need of reform".

Dan Hobbs also confirmed to the Home Affairs Committee that the overwhelming majority of those crossing the Channel do so to claim asylum. He commented: "Asylum claims this year are at 93%, which is slightly lower than last year, at 98%." Hobbs added that the reduction seen this year is among Albanian migrants, many of whom choose not to claim asylum.

Abi Tierney provided information to the Committee on the improvements being made at the Home Office to tackle the backlog of outstanding claims. She said the number of decision-makers had now significantly increased to 1,073, and a recruitment and retention allowance has been implemented to help prevent the very high turnover of staff. "We have seen our attrition rate drop by 31%, which is a good thing," Tierney said.

The Home Affairs Committee also heard evidence from the David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Neal provided some interesting insights into the work being done to tackle the backlog. He explained that the Home Office in Leeds is a piloting a new 'Prioritising Asylum Customer Experience (PACE) team' to help reduce casework numbers and increase decision-making. He said the Home Office wants to treble the number of decisions being made by each decision-maker, from the current rate of 1.3 decisions per week to 4.

David Neal told the Committee: "Some of the stats: at the moment, each decision maker is making 1.3 decisions; the trial that took place in Leeds increased that to 2.7 per decision maker; and the aim is a target of four cases decided per week per decision maker. On recruitment, the figures I have are slightly different: 1,090 decision makers at the moment, with 139 coming online in November … —quite a body of decision makers. You will recall from our 'An inspection of asylum casework' report, which was published last year, that the people line of decision makers was particularly fragile: the stability of managers; the ability of decision makers to become effective, because they are not effective on day one; the training programme; the retention programme described by Abi Tierney, which is something we picked up on in the report; and just the leadership within the Department to get this thing working."

Neal continued: "This is fragile and it needs really good, strong leadership to ensure that people can get the decisions down and maintain the quality of decisions, as we are talking not just about quick decisions but about appropriate decisions. Interestingly, when I questioned the team, one of the areas that was neglected was the longer-term consequences. Fine, you drive down to four decisions per decision maker per week, but if those are poor decisions, they will be challenged at the right-hand end in the court, at the tribunal—'Had any particular consideration been given to that?' I think there is more work to be done in that regard."

When asked if he thought the calibre of the new caseworkers being brought in was sufficient, Neal said he didn't know, but what he saw in Leeds was encouraging. Neal said he visited Leeds a few weeks ago and described the PACE team pilot as being "really impressive".

Home Affairs Committee member James Daly MP noted in response: "I may be missing the point, but where we are at the moment—one point something decisions made per week—is not productivity in any way, shape or form, is it? It is an extraordinary state that we’ve got to."

David Neal agreed that the current number of decisions being made per Home Office decision-maker "seems incredibly low", but added that there is a way out and there is at least a plan to raise it.

As widely reported by the media, Neal's evidence was also notable for his observations on the migrant processing centre at Manston in Kent. He said he had been left speechless by witnessing the overcrowding and "pretty wretched" conditions at the site.

Neal told the Committee: "When I was there on Monday, there were 2,800 detainees in Manston. … What is really concerning and alarming is that the numbers as described are clearly outstripping the capacity of the site. In the facilities that you will have seen earlier in the year, and that I saw when I visited in April, Mitie care and custody officers—detainee custody officers—were supervising detainees close to where the fire station and integration was. The capacity has now outstripped those detainee custody officers, so there are nearly 2,500 people being guarded by untrained detainee custody officers. They are being guarded by a mixture of immigration enforcement officers and security guards. It was so alarming that when I discovered that, I was speechless, and I am not normally speechless. I immediately arranged to speak to His Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons, which I did, and I wrote to the Home Secretary on Monday night to alert him to the situation."

He added: "Nearly 2,500 people not guarded by appropriately trained people is an extraordinary number. No prison in the country is that big. Harmondsworth detention centre capacity might be 600 or 700; to have 2,500 people is a big issue."

Meanwhile, Dan O'Mahoney, the Government's Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, told the Home Affairs Committee that around 10,000 single, adult men from Albania have crossed the Channel so far in 2022.

He commented: "To put that in context, that number of 10,000, depending on how you classify that, means that between 1% and 2% of the entire adult male population of Albania has travelled to the UK in small boats." O'Mahoney added that many choose not to claim asylum or they may claim asylum but are not interested in seeing their claim through. "They work illegally in the UK for maybe six months or a year, they send the money home, and then they go back to Albania. They are able to do that because the way the asylum system and the NRM works makes it quite easy for them to do so," he said.

In related news, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) yesterday published a new report looking at why there has been such a sharp rise in Channel crossings.

The 39-page report can be downloaded here.

Only around 300 people crossed the Channel by small boat in 2018. In yesterday's evidence session before the Home Affairs Committee, Dan O'Mahoney confirmed that 38,000 people have arrived in the UK in small boats so far in 2022.

The IPPR report aims to explore the reasons for the increase in small boat arrivals to help form a firmer basis for a humane and effective policy response.

In summary, IPPR proposes a threefold explanation: "First, increased securitisation at the border has made other options for clandestine entry less viable. Second, withdrawal from the Dublin Regulation has shut off a safe and legal route for people with family members in the UK. Third, there has been a 'snowball' effect, whereby the success of early crossing attempts has encouraged more and more people to follow the same journey."

The report adds: "The government's attempt to address the Channel crossings has largely fixated on deterrence, punitive measures, and the externalisation of the UK's responsibility to protect refugees and asylum seekers to other countries. Yet there is little evidence that this combination of policy measures will bring down the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats. Indeed, the continuing rise in Channel crossings points to the ineffectiveness of current measures to address the issue."

In the report, IPPR examines some alternatives to the government's approach, including the expansion of safe and legal routes, closer cooperation with France and the EU, and reforms to make the asylum process more efficient and effective.