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Asylum system: Doubts and concerns raised around Government's approach to backlogs

27 October 2023

  • Current plan’s impact on vulnerable people not thought through and could lead to serious consequences
  • PAC highlights huge challenge in clearing backlogs and unacceptable costs of inefficient processing of asylum claims

The Home Office faces a huge challenge in clearing asylum system backlogs by December. In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) expresses a number of doubts and concerns about the Asylum Transformation Programme, including on its work to clear a backlog of cases, the unacceptable costs of an inefficient system, a lack of safeguards for vulnerable people, and greater risk of flawed decisions on people’s asylum claims.

The PAC’s inquiry heard that the Home Office is “maximising the use of hotels” by making more people awaiting a decision share rooms. This plan, making potentially vulnerable people share rooms with someone they may never have met, has not been thought through and has no adequate safeguards. The Home Office struggled to explain to the PAC how people would be assessed for suitability for room-sharing, or how past trauma or risk would be considered. Implementing this plan in its current form could have serious consequences.

The Home Office’s failure to process asylum claims efficiently has led to unacceptable costs to the taxpayer. No credible plan exists to end the use of hotels to accommodate people waiting for a decision, at a cost of £2.3bn in 2022-23. Surprisingly, the inquiry heard that the Home Office is paying for in excess of 5,000 empty hotel beds as a ‘buffer’, while at the same time struggling to procure larger-scale accommodation.

The Prime Minister has committed to clear a backlog of 91,000 ‘legacy’ asylum decisions by the end of 2023, representing 52% of the total backlog of people awaiting a decision at June 2023. Around 2,600 decisions a week would need to be made between July and December 2023 to meet this commitment. This is 900 more than the 1,700 decisions the PAC’s report finds were made in the first week of July. Even if it successfully clears the ‘legacy’ cases, there are still expected to be over 80,000 ‘newer’ claims waiting for a decision.

More broadly, the Home Office does not understand the full implications of its programme on the wider asylum system. Its incomplete and unrealistic business case ignores the impact of a rapid clearing of the asylum backlog on Immigration Enforcement and the courts, and risks simply transferring backlogs to elsewhere in the system. The focus on streamlining decision-making may also inadvertently lead to more flawed decisions, or the withdrawal of genuine asylum claims.

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“The backlog of people waiting for a decision on their asylum claim is leaving tens of thousands of people in limbo at an unacceptable cost of billions to the taxpayer. But the compromises being made by the Home Office to meet its commitments are alarming, and some could have grave consequences.

Addressing the backlog at pace is of course desirable, but not if the Government’s approach is to do so by simply shifting pressures onto other parts of the system, by risking more flawed decisions or genuine asylum claims being withdrawn, or most seriously by putting the safety of vulnerable people at risk. The Government must lay out a realistic and detailed plan for transforming the asylum system in its updated business case, or risk making a bad situation worse.”

Further information

Image: PA