Second annual report examining Adults at Risk policy is published
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration concerned by Home Office’s culture of scepticism towards claims of vulnerability by immigration detainees
26 October 2021
David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), last week published the second annual report examining the Home Office's policy on identifying and safeguarding vulnerable adults at risk in immigration detention.
The 132-page inspection report is available here. It covers the period July 2020 to March 2021 and considers whether and how the Adults at Risk (AAR) policy is making a difference.
Overall, the report finds that the policy does offer some degree of protection to people in detention who are identified as vulnerable, but its effectiveness is negatively impacted by flaws within the policy and the way in which the policy is implemented by staff on the ground.
David Neal notes that progress towards the implementation of the accepted recommendations from last year's first inspection report by the then Independent Chief Inspector, David Bolt, has been slow and limited. Neal expressed concern that work to address the shortcomings identified in the AAR policy was moving at an unacceptably slow pace.
The Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP told Politics.co.uk that the ICIBI report was a "damning exposé of the appalling way the Home Office treats very vulnerable people."
In particular, the inspection report notes that there is a culture of scepticism and suspicion in the Home Office towards claims of vulnerability by immigration detainees.
Home Office officials said a sharp rise in recent years in the number of Medico-Legal Reports (MLRs) and of modern slavery claims made through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) indicated that the policy was being abused. In addition, the Home Office found in a dip-sampling exercise that a disproportionate number of MLRs related to detainees from a small handful of countries (especially Albania).
In a response to a survey by the Independent Chief Inspector, one Home Office caseowner wrote that "it is very difficult to not become jaded and cynical when you have to deal with so many near identical MLRs". Another caseworker said: "Some of the detainees' representatives abuse this policy to secure their release from detention".
As noted in the report, external stakeholders rejected the suggestion that MLRs are being abused, and argued that the increase in the number of reports was a reflection of "the failures of the Home Office's internal mechanisms for identifying vulnerabilities".
The Independent Chief Inspector found the perceived abuse of the system coloured how staff at all levels thought about detainees.
David Neal said: "Though awareness of vulnerability issues among Home Office staff has grown considerably in recent years, a perception within the department that Adults at Risk safeguards are widely abused engenders suspicion towards claims of vulnerability. Robust evidence to substantiate this perception was lacking, and concerns about abuse of safeguards at times appeared to serve as a justification for slow, poor-quality caseworking. An atmosphere of suspicion towards claimants is particularly dangerous when dealing with some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society. This danger is compounded when at the tactical level of the delivery of control measures to protect them is uneven and at the strategic level previously identified gaps are left unaddressed."
The report adds: "While caseworkers, for whom the AAR policy played the biggest role, were cognizant of the duties upon them, they spoke of their suspicions as to the authenticity of claims of vulnerability. There was little evidence that caseworkers understood that vulnerability was dynamic and could fluctuate over a period of detention and therefore required monitoring. Detention was rarely reviewed when a vulnerability indicator was flagged, and all too often [Detention and Case Progression Reviews] contained basic errors, such as the wrong AAR level, negatively impacting how the Home Office made decisions about an individual."
Among the report's other findings was that poor record-keeping undermined the quality of the data available to the Home Office to assess the extent to which it was identifying and safeguarding detainees.
David Neal makes eleven recommendations in the report, but was disappointing to see the Home Office took "a piecemeal approach to engaging with the recommendations, with only two accepted in full, and seven partially accepted, watering down both the spirit and the intended consequences of the recommendations."
The Home Office's full response to the report can be read online here.