David Bolt finds improvements, but several areas not working and there's still no analysis of cost savings
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration publishes inspection of Home Office's administrative review process
26 May 2020
David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, last week published a detailed new inspection report on the Home Office's processes for handling Administrative Reviews (ARs).
The in-depth 116-page report can be downloaded here.
It notes: "Inspectors examined 152 Home Office case files (electronic records and paper files) for ARs decided by ARU [the Administrative Review Unit] and by Border Force between 1 March and 30 May 2019, plus ARs that had been rejected as invalid."
David Bolt said that he found the Home Office's handling of ARs had improved since his previous two inspections in 2015 and 2017.
The report states: "ARU reviewers were generally effective at identifying and correcting 'objective' errors, such as the misapplication of the Immigration Rules, the overlooking of relevant evidence or the granting of the wrong length or conditions of leave, particularly when issuing Biometric Residence Permits (BRP) to Tier 4 applicants (albeit the Home Office was often slow in providing applicants with a replacement, suggesting that the end-to-end process of correcting BRP errors via ARs was neither efficient nor customer-focused)."
David Bolt added, however, that there are several areas where ARs are not working, including where the decision to refuse involved an assessment of the applicant's credibility, and at the border where individuals are being asked to waive their rights to an AR without appropriate oversight.
On decisions which were originally refused based on the decision maker's assessment of the applicant's credibility, the Independent Chief Inspector found: "The fact that the AR reviewer was constrained to consider only the same evidence that the original decision maker had had in front of them meant that the process was geared more towards demonstrating that the Home Office had not made an error rather than in reaching the most appropriate outcome for the applicant, which was of particular concern with potentially vulnerable applicants, such as those seeking Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) as a victim of Domestic Violence (DV)."
David Bolt was concerned that some cases inspected "showed a readiness to side with the original decision-maker's opinions about the weight of the evidence provided" and this "raised questions about institutional thinking."
The Home Office also continued to fail to provide an analysis of cost savings, David Bolt noted.
When replacing Court appeals with ARs, the Home Office said that there would be substantial financial savings due to a decrease in the volume of appeals, but no analysis of actual cost savings has been done despite the Independent Chief Inspector asking in his two previous inspection reports.
David Bolt said: "This inspection asked about the analysis, as none had been published. In June 2019, the Home Office reported that work on a cost-saving analysis had been 'tasked out'. There was no more information about what it would include or when it would be completed."
Overall, the Independent Chief Inspector found: "it was clear from this inspection that in looking to improve ARs the Home Office needs to think beyond merely 'tweaking' its processes and ask whether the AR 'system', after almost five years of operation, has delivered the benefits it claimed it would during the passage of the 2014 Act. If it has not, the Home Office needs to take a more fundamental look at the scope of ARs and what it is seeking to achieve through them. Either way, it needs as a matter of some urgency to improve its data and information about ARs and to ensure that there is sufficient visibility and ownership of this at Board level within BICS [Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System]."
The report makes five recommendations, which David Bolt said were aimed for the most part at improving current AR processes and oversight, including urgently improving AR reporting and data so that the true picture can be seen.
The Home Office's response to the report can be read online here.