A NEW REPORT published by the Refugee Council highlights significant issues with the UK Government’s plan to clear the backlog of ‘legacy’ asylum claims by the end of 2023.

The charity estimates that the UK Home Office would need to make 10,630 decisions each month to fulfil the Prime Minister’s commitment, and says the target is unlikely to be met without big increases in the rate of decision making.

The number of decision makers in the Home Office fell from 1,333 in early January to 1,280 in May and the rate of decision-making is much lower than three years ago when there were about half the number of decision makers but almost the same number of decisions being made every month.

The paper also highlights that just over 42,000 people from five high-grant-rate countries (Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria) were being accommodated by the Home Office at the end of March 2023, including 23,108 in hotels – nearly half (49 per cent) of the total number of people in hotels. If all asylum applicants from these five countries were given decisions, that would allow for the use of hotels to reduce by 89 per cent, saving the Home Office £5.34 million a day.

The paper also points to a concerning trend in recent “decisions” on asylum applications: the majority of recent decisions are actually withdrawals, rather than grants or rejections. Of the 10,458 decisions made in the first three months of 2023, 55 per cent were withdrawals. In April, that number was 72 per cent. There are a number of possible reasons for this increase, including the Home Office being stricter when applicants miss reporting requirements or are absent from their housing for a while, but the Government has not yet provided an official reason for this.

Without counting withdrawals, the number of decisions taken in Q1 this year is actually lower than in the last two quarters of 2022, before the Prime Minister’s promise to clear the legacy backlog. Rather than increasing the productivity of caseworkers by making faster and better decisions, this creates concerns that people are instead effectively being forced out of the process by having their cases withdrawn before they are even considered.

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The asylum backlog has a devastating impact on those we work with, who are stuck in limbo for months and years on end, unable to work or put down roots as they wait to hear whether they will be allowed to stay in the country.

“Taking action on the backlog makes sense both financially and morally. The Government must go further and faster by taking the simple step of setting a target to complete all applications from high grant rate countries by the end of September, and ensure its streamlined process is accessible and transparent. This would result in reducing nearly all hotel use, saving millions of pounds a day.

“We are very concerned about the rapid increase in the number of asylum claims being withdrawn with no explanation from the Home Office. We must see an analysis of the reasons for this increase and action to ensure asylum applicants’ claims are being given proper consideration and are only withdrawn in very specific circumstances.”

The report’s recommendations are:

  • The Home Office should set a target for completing all outstanding legacy and flow cases from high grant countries by the end of September, with new applications receiving decisions within three months. The use of hotels should be reduced by 89 per cent by the end of October, in line with the proportion of people being accommodated by the Home Office from those same countries.
  • The Home Office should work with people with lived experience and expert organisations to ensure the questionnaire used for the Streamlined Asylum Process is accessible and will capture the information required to make quick grants.
  • The Home Office should work with legal practitioners to ensure legal advice is available to assist people completing the questionnaire. The timeframe for returning the questionnaire should be set according to the availability of legal advice.
  • The Home Office should publish data as part of the quarterly immigration statistics on the outcomes of the Streamlined Asylum Process. This should include the return rate of questionnaires, the number of decisions that are made as a result of the questionnaire, the number of cases where an interview is still required and the number of asylum claims that are withdrawn as a result of questionnaires not being returned.
  • The Home Office should not withdraw an asylum claim if a questionnaire hasn’t been returned unless the applicant explicitly says they wish to withdraw their claim, or the Home Office knows the individual has definitely left the UK.
  • The Home Office should provide an analysis of the rate of asylum claims being withdrawn the quarterly immigration statistics, explain the reasons behind any increase, and take action to ensure it is not adversely affecting people’s asylum claim.

* Read: The asylum backlog and asylum accommodation – June 2023 here.

* Source: The Refugee Council