Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:
"It is in the interest of neither applicants for asylum nor the taxpayer that applications for asylum take a long time to be concluded. The new programme for managing applications, the New Asylum Model, has brought a lot of improvements to the management of new cases. But the process of coming to decisions on whether to grant asylum is still too slow. Following a surge in applications in 2007, the backlog of cases where a decision had not yet been made doubled in a year, to 8,700 in the second quarter of 2008.
"Over and above this backlog, there is the one of existing ‘legacy’ cases which predated the New Asylum Model. It is welcome that the Home Office has given a firm commitment to this Committee that it will meet its target of concluding all of these legacy cases by 2011, especially since some of these old cases might be difficult to resolve.
"Giving priority to the removal of foreign national prisoners has reduced the amount of detention space available for failed asylum applicants. The result is that few failed asylum applicants are yet being removed from the UK under the New Asylum Model. The Home Office is certainly finding it difficult to achieve the tipping point, where more failed applicants are removed than there are unfounded applications.
"In order to free up detention spaces, the Home Office must review all foreign national prisoner cases at the start of their sentences, to prepare for the immediate removal of those recommended for deportation on their release from custody. The enforced removal of a failed asylum applicant is also often made very difficult by obstacles outside the Home Office’s control. The Department needs to work with the Courts, foreign government and other bodies to make the process of enforced removal more tractable."
Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 28th report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Home Office, examined its progress to date, and on the obstacles to faster, more accurate completion of cases.
In 2006, our predecessors published a critical report on the shortcomings in the removals system, making wide-ranging recommendations. Revisiting the subject of asylum applications and removals some three years on, we are pleased to note that the Home Office (the Department) has responded positively and progress has been made. The Department has implemented the New Asylum Model, whereby a Case Owner manages all new asylum cases from application to conclusion, at which stage the applicant is either allowed to stay in the UK or returned to their country of origin. We are also pleased to note that, as a direct result of implementing our recommendations, the Department also established a separate process to clear the backlog of 400,000–450,000 legacy cases unresolved at the introduction of the New Asylum Model.
The New Asylum Model has resulted in the Department reaching an initial decision more quickly and in cases being concluded faster than in 2006. We also have the Department’s firm assurance that the legacy cases will be cleared by 2011.
Amongst the many cases awaiting completion, there are undoubtedly many people who genuinely need humanitarian protection because they are fleeing oppression, as well as those with more tenuous claims to asylum. The Department still faces significant challenges, however, in bringing these cases to a prompt conclusion. Faster, more accurate completion of cases reduces both uncertainty for the applicant and the cost to the tax payer. The Department is halfway through its programme of stepped improvements in the time taken to conclude cases. Removal poses a challenge. It will be another four years before the Department has the total of 4,000 detention spaces that it needs to increase removals to optimum levels, and before its new IT system is fully operational. The Department also needs to work with the Courts, foreign governments and other bodies to bring about the legal changes and diplomatic solutions needed to resolve obstacles to removal that lie outside its control.