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Over a dozen reports by Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration published after his sacking


Reports made public after David Neal was sacked for speaking to media with concerns over Home Office failure to release reports

Date of Publication:
29 February 2024

A large batch of previously unpublished reports by David Neal, the former Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), have been published today by the Home Office.

ICIBI logoTwelve inspection reports were released in total at 4pm today. They are:

The Inspector's annual report for 2022 to 2023 was also released this afternoon.

There will be much to note among the many hundreds of pages published.

In the inspection report of asylum casework, David Neal finds "significant strides" were made clearing the legacy backlog, with "extraordinary levels of commitment" shown by Home Office staff. He adds, however: "I am concerned that the focus on clearing the legacy backlog ‘at all costs’ has led to perverse outcomes for claimants and staff. The number of claims that have been withdrawn and counted as ‘outcomes’ has soared – 22% of all decisions made since June 2022 were withdrawals, and, incredibly, only one underwent formal quality assurance. This is not acceptable. Routine quality assurance on interviews and decisions has also been sacrificed for increased productivity. This has the potential to add to the appeals queue as a result of poor-quality refusals, and to further prolong the length of time a claimant’s life is put on hold."

The inspection report of the use of deprivation of citizenship by the Status Review Unit finds positively that this area of the Home Office is "working well", though there was room for improvement in some areas.

In his re-inspection report on the use of hotels for housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, Neal finds overall that "some progress has been made", but "improvements have not been delivered that could make a significant difference to the experience of children in hotels." Serious concerns are raised over a lack of Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for staff. David Neal says: "While a year ago hotel staff were living onsite without DBS clearance, this time inspectors found insufficient assurance, with a reliance on private contractors to self-report that DBS checks were in place, and with periodic spot checks by the Home Office. This is really not good enough. This is basic building block stuff, which is not being done well, in an area where I have made a clear recommendation before, under ministerial scrutiny and with significant public interest. It points to lack of grip and poor leadership in a critical area of business. The Home Office must do better."

The Home Office comes in for criticism in the Afghan resettlement schemes inspection for not having an effective data collection strategy and for poor governance of application processing. Neal notes: "In common with other inspections, I have again found Home Office data to be poor. The emergency nature of the response to events in Kabul means that data will be imperfect. However, the Home Office needs to work considerably harder at preparing itself to respond to such crisis events. …  Eighteen months on from [Operation Pitting], the Home Office does not have a single accurate dataset and, on occasions, has resorted to contacting arrivals by phone to establish their immigration status, and inspectors even found that the Home Office granted indefinite permission to stay to British citizens in error. This is not good enough."

Strong criticism is also found in the re-inspection of ePassport gates report. The report finds failings in the "basic building blocks" of a service that is fundamental to the protection of the UK's borders. David Neal states bluntly: "On the basis of this inspection, I believe the protection of the border is neither effective nor efficient."

There is currently no Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in post following Neal's sacking last week.

Controversy over the Home Office's failure to release the ICIBI's reports in a timely manner led David Neal to speak to the media with his concerns. On 21st February, Home Secretary James Cleverly announced in a statement that Neal had been sacked with immediate effect the previous day because he had breached the terms of his appointment and lost the Home Secretary's confidence.

David Neal was due to leave the post of ICIBI on 21 March 2024. Last year, the Government decided not to renew Neal's contract after Home Office officials criticised his reports for being "excessively critical" and not positive enough.

Neal appeared before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee this week on Tuesday. He told the Committee: "I have been sacked for doing my job. I think I have been sacked for doing what the law asks of me, and I have fallen down over a clause in my employment contract. I think that is a crying shame, because I think I have done my job extremely well. I have been candid with this Committee and have produced multiple reports that have exposed, sometimes, a lack of effectiveness or efficiency in the system that the Borders Act sets me up to inspect."

The former ICIBI added that he had been given "no indication" of when his total of 15 unpublished reports would be released by the Home Office. The full transcript of the evidence session can be read here.

Yesterday, the Home Affairs Committee wrote to the Home Secretary with its concerns after the evidence session with Neal. The Committee asked for clarification from the Home Secretary on a number of issues, as well as expressing concern over the length of time it would take to appoint Neal's replacement in the role of ICIBI.

In last week's statement, the Home Secretary said: "The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is a highly important position. A candidate will be appointed following robust competition, in accordance with the Governance Code on Public Appointments. The planned recruitment process for the next Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is in progress."

The Home Affairs Committee, however, said it its letter to James Cleverly: "[W]e are very concerned about the length of time it will take to appoint a new ICIBI and the impact of having a vacant role for a significant period of time, will have. We understand it took nearly a year for Mr Neal to take up his post as the ICIBI and recent reports are suggesting it could be 6-9 months before a new ICIBI is appointed. Mr Neal told us 'any gap in Chief Inspectors means that the work stops…until the new Chief Inspector is appointed'."

The Committee continued: "We remain extremely concerned that at a time when fundamental policy changes and significant problems are occurring across the asylum and migration arena, the position of the ICIBI remains vacant, and will likely remain vacant for at least 6-9 months. This is simply not good enough."