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Inspection report on Home Office’s use of sanctions and penalties finds lack of overall strategy and lack of evidence to show they work


Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration's second report of the week looks at sanctions and penalties

Date of Publication:
15 January 2021

Inspection report on Home Office’s use of sanctions and penalties finds lack of overall strategy and lack of evidence to show they work

15 January 2021

David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), on Tuesday published an inspection report on the use of sanctions and penalties by the Home Office's Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System (BICS) directorates.

The comprehensive 117-page report is here. The Home Office's response is here.

In explaining the purpose of the inspection, Bolt said: "The Home Office is able to make use of a range of sanctions and penalties to encourage and enforce compliance with the Immigration Rules. Some of these are directly within its control, while others are 'owned' and administered by other government departments, agencies or third parties with input from the Home Office in the form of data, typically about individuals who do not have the right to enter or remain in the UK or whose rights, for example the right to work, are restricted. This inspection examined how efficiently and effectively the Home Office used these sanctions and penalties, which included looking at what it was seeking to achieve with each and to what extent it was succeeding."

The inspection looked in depth at the Carriers Liability scheme, sponsor management under the points-based system, and at 'hostile (or compliant) environment' measures.

Overall, the inspection found that there was an absence of strategy behind the Home Office's use of sanctions and penalties and an absence of evidence to show that they were working.

The report states: "[C]urrent measures have been introduced piecemeal, and the inspection found little evidence of consistency or coherence in their design or in their application, and no overall strategy or underpinning rationale, beyond a broad understanding that their primary purpose is to encourage and enforce compliance rather than simply to punish breaches of the Immigration Rules."

In addition, there was a lack of complete and accurate performance data, in particular with regard to outcomes, meaning that the BICS directorates involved in the administration of sanctions and penalties were not able to produce compelling evidence that they work.

Notably, the Independent Chief Inspector found that this also applied to 'hostile environment' measures.

The report says: "The Home Office has consistently argued that its 'hostile (now 'compliant') environment' measures should be judged as a package and not singly. But, as ICIBI found in 2016, 2018 and 2019, it has done little to evaluate them either way, whether in terms of the efficiency of the processes underpinning each measure, including the costs to third parties of supporting them, or their effectiveness in delivering the hoped-for outcomes. Nor, as at September 2020, had it produced evidence to answer the concerns of stakeholders about the damage caused to communities and to individuals, which have intensified since the Windrush scandal."

Bolt recommends a full and thorough review of all of the sanctions and penalties used by the Home Office, with the aim of ensuring that each is "proportionate, necessary and well-managed and that together they form a coherent whole".

In response to the report, the Home Office said: "The ICIBI has made two recommendations. The Home Office has fully accepted one and partially accepted the other. The Department acknowledges there is more to do to look comprehensively across the three areas covered by this report and to improve how it monitors the performance of the individual measures. We also accept that there is more that we need to do to improve our record keeping and data quality and to take action to better understand and monitor outcomes."

The Independent Chief Inspector's recommendation for a thorough and co-ordinated review of all BICS sanctions and penalties was only partially accepted, with the Home Office responding: "Rather than conduct an additional review at this stage, we will take the findings of this ICIBI inspection into account alongside the work already underway."

David Bolt said in response: "The department's partial acceptance of this recommendation, in reality is a rejection to commit 'at this stage' to a wider review. From experience, if the department fails to seize the moment things are quickly forgotten as new priorities take the attention. I therefore doubt that a wider review will ever be completed."