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Chief Inspector of Borders finds Home Office’s performance in removing foreign criminals is inefficient, unacceptable and ‘no way to run a government department’


Two new inspection reports released on removal of foreign national offenders and on country information for Iraq and Myanmar

Date of Publication:
30 June 2023

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) yesterday released two new inspection reports.

ICIBI logoAn 84-page report, available here, examines the Home Office's operations and performance in removing Foreign National Offenders (FNOs) from the UK.

David Neal, the Chief Inspector of Borders, explained: "This inspection took an overarching view of the Home Office's Foreign National Offenders Returns Command (FNORC) to assess whether the department is doing everything within its power to remove those foreign criminals who are, by law, subject to deportation."

The report is highly critical of the Home Office's performance, describing it as inefficient and even unacceptable. Indeed, such is the scale of the problems identified that David Neal concludes at one point: "This is no way to run a government department".

In his foreword to the report, Neal summarises the problems and says: "Staff did not have a clear sense of priorities, and there was a disproportionate focus on managing cases, rather than making decisions and progressing the removal of FNOs. Of particular concern was the situation regarding data and management information, with staff working from unwieldy local spreadsheets rather than a reliable central database that meets the needs of the business area. This is something that the ICIBI has repeatedly encountered and commented on in previous reports. It is therefore unsurprising that the Home Office was unable to provide consistent data sets or complete evidence returns for this inspection."

Inspectors found that the quality of the data and management information (MI) had not improved since previous reviews and inspections by the National Audit Office in 2014 and the ICIBI in 2017 and 2019.

While the Home Office recently moved to a new caseworking database, known as Atlas, the ICIBI found this had only compounded problems. Atlas could not generate reports on certain cohorts and there were significant discrepancies between Atlas and other Home Office data sources. "[T]he quality of data provided was so poor that case sampling exercises could not be carried out with any reliability," the report adds.

David Neal commented: "It is unacceptable that the department cannot produce clear and reliable data on the FNOs for whom it is responsible."

As a result of the ongoing database shortcomings, Home Office staff continue to rely on numerous spreadsheets to monitor case workflow and productivity.

The report states: "Staff told inspectors that the spreadsheets were considered to be a 'safety net', as the centralised IT systems could not be relied upon for statistical analysis or meaningful MI reporting. This was summarised by one manager, who said, 'information will be correct on my spreadsheet but not necessarily on Atlas. Atlas is not great, so we are using workarounds. Atlas is a barrier to removal because the data is not accurate'."

In terms of user efficiency, Atlas performs worse than the Home Office's previous Case Information Database (CID): "[I]nspectors found an overwhelming dissatisfaction with Atlas among FNORC staff who were using it routinely for data entry, information retrieval, or case progression. Some reported that regular tasks such as recording a change of custodial or detention location were taking several times longer to complete on Atlas when compared to the same action being undertaken on CID. A member of staff described the system as being 'click heavy'. Another told inspectors, 'Atlas is a slow system to do anything with, and this is a fast-paced job. My work is piling up because I am trying to play catch-up doing the Atlas actions'."

The report details many further problems with Atlas and finds it is clear that a great deal of work is needed to provide FNORC with the data it requires to fulfil its function effectively.

David Neal stressed: "[T]his inspection found that the only way for the Home Office to identify a nationality cohort awaiting deportation was to manually trawl through multiple spreadsheets. For an operation of this size to be run like this is unacceptable. For any operation to be effective, there needs to be a single version of the truth, and for FNOs it does not exist. Worryingly, I found no evidence of a strategy to build one."

He continued: "Moreover, there is insufficient information to effectively identify which FNOs could be removed from the country today. The Home Office does not have an overarching view of its caseworking system. In order to establish the current state of a particular case, case owners have to manually interrogate individual case records. This is no way to run a government department."

As the report notes, the number of FNOs removed from the UK increased steadily from 2011 to 2016 (from 4,761 to 6,437 per year), but has since declined each year, with only 2,676 being removed in 2021.

The ICIBI inspection also examines in detail two removal schemes operated by the Home Office, which are designed to encourage and facilitate the early removal of FNOs and to reduce the associated prison costs. Inspectors found both schemes were underperforming.

David Neal summarised: "The Early Removal Scheme (ERS) and the Facilitated Return Scheme (FRS), both designed to save money and free up prison spaces, are not being administered effectively. It is clear to me from this inspection that the Home Office is not making best use of the ERS, largely due to delays in caseworking. The FRS saw an improved performance in 2022, mostly driven by a change in policy and the current focus on removing Albanian nationals. However, processes and management of the scheme could be clearer and more tightly managed."

The Home Office's response to the ICIBI report is available here

Also released yesterday by the ICIBI was an 82-page inspection report on Home Office country of origin information for Iraq and Myanmar. You can download the report here (though you will need to view the PDF in landscape mode to read it).

David Neal says in his foreword: "I am pleased that many of the recommendations made in the reviews prepared for [Independent Advisory Group on Country Information (IAGCI)] have been accepted by the Home Office, but I note that reviewers and [the Home Office's Country Policy and Information Team (CPIT)] have again adopted different views on the value of providing more extensive cultural and historical information in COI products. I understand both positions: While deeper background on a country may well provide useful context to support a better understanding of asylum claims, I appreciate the challenge faced by CPIT in producing materials that are sufficiently succinct and focused to serve as a ready reference for asylum decision-makers. There is a clear tension here, and since this point is a recurring theme in COI reviews for IAGCI, I urge the Home Office to keep under review the balance it strikes between brevity and the inclusion of relevant cultural or contextual information which might aid the asylum decision-making process."