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Senior officials tell Commons Home Affairs Committee about Home Office plans to tackle backlog of 89,000 asylum cases

Summary:

Home Office continuing to expand asylum teams; new flow model introduced to improve decisions 

Date of Publication:
27 June 2022

Senior officials tell Commons Home Affairs Committee about Home Office plans to tackle backlog of 89,000 asylum cases

27 June 2022
EIN

On Wednesday of last week, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee heard evidence on the work of the Home Office from the department's two most senior civil servants, Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft and Second Permanent Secretary Tricia Hayes.

Home Office buildingThe two-hour evidence session can be watched here and the transcript can be read here.

Among the many questions, Diana Johnson MP, the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, asked the officials what the Home Office's plan was to clear the growing asylum backlog, which now stands at 89,000 cases.

Tricia Hayes responded: "Our plan has two elements. One is, as I said earlier, that we are continuing to put more people into our asylum teams. We are, as part of our workforce planning, bringing more workforce in over the summer. […] We currently have 820 and we are on track to have 1,000 by September. Like many other operational workforces, we have had some issues with retention, but we are putting into place a new recruitment and retention allowance for our asylum caseworkers, which is intended to give us a more stable and permanent asylum caseworking team. Asylum caseworking is difficult. The productivity you get from a fully trained and experienced caseworker is very different from the productivity you get from somebody who has just come into the team. It is not massively surprising that bringing in lots of new people is not going to give us an immediate, overnight solution.

"There are some other things that we are doing as well, which will make a huge difference. From the end of June we will be distinguishing the way in which we deal with cases that are already in the system from the way in which we deal with new cases, in what we call our legacy and flow model. Under our flow model, new cases coming in will be handled by a separate team using new processes with pre-populated templates, simpler guidance and clear service standards, so that people will know, while their case is being decided, when they might expect to get a decision, which I think will improve the experience of being in our asylum system as well."

Hayes added that Home Office is in the process of setting up a productivity taskforce to help reduce the backlog.

She explained: "We are doing an end-to-end review of our decision-making processes, trying to take out parts of the decision process where we can go more quickly, while still taking good-quality decisions. Some examples of that include using one interview rather than two where we can; not fully transcribing in writing the content of every single interview; using different templates for decisions; and having simpler in-country guidance. We are confident that through that transformation programme we will find ourselves with more caseworkers and, for each caseworker, more decisions."

Committee member Stuart C McDonald of the SNP asked Hayes whether the Home Office had engaged with immigration lawyers over, for example, plans for not transcribing all asylum interviews.

Tricia Hayes clarified in response: "Can I just be completely clear that nothing that we are proposing to do would cause legal risk? The example that I quoted, which is not manually transcribing interviews, does not mean that we are not going to keep records of interviews; it is just that we are going to use some not very modern technology and record them rather than write them down. It is an example of a process improvement we can make that will build in efficiencies but essentially give us the same record, the same information, and not introduce any legal risk. That is the kind of change that we think we can make."

As Committee chair Diana Johnson noted, Matthew Rycroft last year told the Home Affairs Committee that it took a year to process an asylum claim. Johnson asked Tricia Hayes what the Home Office's new plan might reduce this figure to.

Hayes responded: "I am sorry to once again refuse to set a target, but I am not going to make a commitment, because so much is dependent on the numbers coming in, as well as the work that we can do at our end to improve the productivity and volume of caseworkers. […] The commitment I can make, which is something that is within my control, is that with the work that we have been doing on our asylum transformation, the additional numbers of caseworkers coming in and the new caseworkers running off the training, we should have a more productive asylum system next time I see you than the last time I saw you. I think I made a commitment when I saw you last time that we would do double the number of decisions in the current financial year compared to the previous financial year. I stand by that commitment and I will give you an update when I next see you."

Johnson also asked the Home Office officials why the number of failed asylum seekers being removed from the UK was now so low, noting: "In 2010 there were 10,663 asylum-related returns. In the last year there were 806."

In response, Matthew Rycroft said there was an average of a couple of return flights each week and he cited the example of the recent failed Rwanda flight as showing the difficulty in returning people.

"It is hard. It is very difficult because each person typically would seek to claim that they should not be on that flight. We saw the attrition on the Rwanda flight, with the numbers going down from 47 to seven and ultimately down to zero. Similar patterns happen on other flights as well. Of course, the Nationality and Borders Act, among other things, seeks to redress that, but obviously those changes have not come into effect yet," he said.

Diana Johnson asked: "Is that because people are litigating more, they have more access to lawyers and they are challenging more?

Matthew Rycroft said this was a "significant part of the picture," but it was not all down to this, and the Home Office also lacked returns agreements with some countries.