Independent Chief Inspector Slams Agency On Legacy Cases

John Vine, CBE, QPMOn 22 November 2012, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (“the inspector”) Mr John Vine CPE QPM – whose office was established under section 48 of the UK Borders Act 2007 – published An inspection of the UK Border Agency’s handling of legacy asylum and migration cases and it makes fascinating reading.

The inspection makes recommendations for improvements in the agency’s work. As disclosed by the title, the inspection’s purpose was to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the UKBA’s handling of legacy asylum and migration cases.

The inspection concentrated on (1) the agency’s progress in respect of its targets regarding the clearance of legacy asylum and migration backlog cases (2) the agency’s endeavours to resolve cases in the asylum and migration controlled archives and (3) whether “live” asylum cases had been reviewed and taken to the furthest possible conclusion.

Operational delivery, safeguarding individuals and continuous improvement were the criteria for the framework of the inspection. The inspector noted that in 2006 the government pledged that unresolved asylum cases would be settled by the summer of 2011.

In his telling report, Mr Vine made numerous observations in relation to the UKBA’s performance and he detected governance failures as a central dilemma in the manner the agency’s work had progressed.

Since 147,000 cases remained unresolved, the inspector observed that the agency’s claim that the “review of all cases in the legacy cohort” had been concluded was misleading.

The inspector highlighted that to deal specifically with the unsettled cases the Case Assurance and Audit Unit (CAAU) was established in April 2011.

Therefore, in his report, the inspector examined how well the transition of work from Case Resolution Directorate (CRD) to CAAU was managed: the inspection also focused on the general efficiency and effectiveness of the handling of legacy asylum and migration cases.

The inspector found that the passage of work from CRD to CAAU “was poorly managed” because of “the volume of the remaining work to resolve legacy cases was not anticipated by the new unit.”

Thus, “CAAU was quickly overwhelmed by the casework and the associated high levels of correspondence from MPs, legal representatives and applicants.”

The inspector was “disappointed to find that a lack of governance was again a contributory factor in what turned out to be an extremely disjointed and inadequately planned transfer of work.” Moreover, the haphazard nature of the situation was evidenced in the fact that “at one point over 150 boxes of post, including correspondence from applicants, MPs and their legal representatives, lay unopened in a room in Liverpool.”

The inspector observed that a large number of cases handled by the CAAU fell within the CRD’s remit. He also examined the security archive to note that since April 2011, security checks “had not been undertaken routinely or consistently”.

Likewise, other flaws also existed.

Notably, no thorough comparison of data from controlled archive cases was undertaken with other government departments or financial institutions in order to trace applicants until April 2012. This contradicted assurances given to the Home Affairs Select Committee that 124,000 cases had been archived only after making exhaustive checks to trace applicants. (The Select Committee is scheduled to take the inspector’s evidence on Tuesday, 4 December 2012.)

Unimpressed with the UKBA, on the whole the inspector opined that “the programme of legacy work is far from concluded” as the agency estimated “that up to 37,500 applicants would be located and that their cases will need to be considered.”  The investigation also revealed a cover up because “cases were placed in the archive after only very minimal work in order to fulfil the pledge to conclude this work by the summer of 2011.”

Such behaviour prejudiced asylum seekers who had waited for years to have their cases settled and it also bolstered unmeritorious cases because “those who would otherwise have faced removal will have accrued rights to remain in the UK.”

The criticism, however, did not stop there. Changes in policy to grant discretionary leave over indefinite leave also prejudiced people’s rights because exceptions allowing the continued grant of indefinite leave to people whose applications the UKBA had promised to settle by July 2011 were neither initially in place nor communicated to staff. So unaccompanied child asylum seeking children were “adversely affected”. Their cases “should have been dealt with in a timely fashion” and it did not matter “whether they had been in contact with the agency themselves, or whether any contact was via their legal representatives or MP, or whether litigation was contemplated or pending.”

Furthermore, the inspector was unequivocal in explaining that:

Applicants who had been told that their case would be dealt with by July 2011 had a reasonable expectation that their cases would have been resolved by that date. It was reasonable for them to expect that, if a decision to grant had been made in the stated time, the policy applied would be the relevant policy at the date of decision, which would have resulted in a grant of ILR.

So what should the UKBA do to rectify the above inadequacies?

Well, John Vine thought that in order to make amends the UKBA “must make a new commitment to the resolution of legacy cases and stick to it.”

Equally, he let it be known that “information about progress presented to Parliament and other stakeholders must be absolutely accurate in order that the performance of the agency in this high profile area of work can be evaluated effectively.”

The inspector made ten recommendations to the UKBA. These, along with the UKBA’s responses, are set out below.

1. Routinely and regularly matches asylum and migration legacy cases against PNC and WI records, until the point at which cases are finally concluded.

UKBA: Accepted

2. Ensures that the information it provides to the Home Affairs Select Committee is accurate and includes all legacy cases where asylum applications were made before March 2007.

UKBA: Accepted and implementing

3. Is clear and consistent in the terminology it uses, so that Parliament and the public understand exactly what progress the Agency is making in concluding legacy casework.

UKBA: Accepted and implementing

4. Develops a realistic timescale to conclude all remaining legacy cases and makes a public commitment to do so.

UKBA: Partially accepted – implementing

5. Clarifies the information that should be stored on file and the Casework Information Database and incorporates checks of this into the quality assurance framework.

UKBA: Accepted – implementing

6. Introduces a protocol between CAAU and Local Immigration Teams to ensure that, when legacy asylum and migration applicants are refused, removals are prioritised.

UKBA: Accepted – implementing

7. Works with the Home Office to ensure that guidance on new policies sets out any relevant exceptions, and communicates these effectively to staff so that they are applied fairly and consistently.

UKBA: Accepted – implementing

8. Ensures that decisions affecting young people are dealt with in a timely way that minimises any uncertainty that they may experience with their applications.

UKBA: Accepted – implemented (processes in place)

9. Manages complaint handling processes effectively, ensuring that:

  • Complaints are recorded accurately
  • Responses deal with the substance of the complaint and
  • Published service standards are met.

UKBA: Accepted – implementing

10. Embeds a stronger quality assurance framework within CAAU which  ensures that decisions are made in accordance with the law and its policies and are based on all available evidence.

UKBA: Accepted – implementing

The agency’s full response to the inspector’s report is available here. Please read the inspector’s full report below.

About Asad Ali Khan, BA, MSc, MA, LL.B (Hons), LL.M

Senior Partner, Khan & Co, Barristers-at-Law
This entry was posted in Asylum, John Vine, UKBA, UKBA 2007 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Independent Chief Inspector Slams Agency On Legacy Cases

  1. brandon says:

    The Report is not surprisingly very damaging for the UKBA.
    Everyone who has any professional connection with the UKBA knows how its policy is unfair and deliberately anti immigrants. Even the UK judiciary knows that.
    Please read as an example of the policy unfairness, The Upper Tribunal decision concerning the UK Border Agency’s treatment of postal applications – Basnet (validity of application – respondent) [2012] UKUT 00113(IAC). Rejected applications due invalid fee payment-First Tier Tribunal Basnet (validity of application – respondent) [2012] UKUT 00113(IAC). It is shameless official policy which has deprived hundreds, maybe thousands of foreigner students and workers to continue their work or / and complete studies they paid for to the UK schools.

    And has the Tribunal’s decision finally ended the UKBA’s unfair policy? NO!
    This discriminatory policy is created and ordered to the UKBA by the Government and would not change until the Government changes own policy on forefingers in the UK. Until that day, we will witness more reports like this one.

  2. mkp says:

    Agreed. Blake J’s decision needs to be implemented.

  3. mkp says:

    Customer service at the UK Border Agency is “shockingly poor,” the chief inspector of immigration has told MPs.

    John Vine also gave the Home Affairs Committee a damning assessment of the agency’s decision making, management, use of jargon and culture.

    But he stopped short of calling it “not fit for purpose” – the phrase used by then Home Secretary John Reid in 2006.

    Mr Vine’s comments follow a report that found significant failings in the handling of unresolved asylum cases.

    John Reid’s description of the immigration directorate, the forerunner of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), as “not fit for purpose” after the mistaken release of thousands of foreign prisoners, led to a major shake-up of the system and the eventual splitting up of the Home Office into two different departments.

    Asked if Mr Reid’s description still rang true six years later, Mr Vine said: “In some parts of the agency I see improvement. In this particular part of the agency, that I inspected, I was disappointed not to find the progress I expected to see.”

    He added: “The agency needs to set a new date for the conclusion of asylum legacy cases and stick to it. And in the meantime be as transparent as possible in informing you and members of the public about the actuality of the data.”

    He said “more can be done” to ensure legacy cases were treated as a priority by local immigration teams.

    And it was “difficult to ascertain the rationale behind some of the decisions that were made” in the 6,000 cases where individuals had been granted leave to remain.

    For example, there was no way of knowing, from the files, how many had criminal convictions, he told the committee.

    Mr Vine painted a picture of an organisation in which one part, such as the enforcement arm, did not know what other parts, such as local immigration teams, were doing, and where files regularly went missing or got lost in the system.

    This had led to mix-ups such as 2,000 asylum seekers being categorised as missing even though the individuals concerned had been reporting regularly to the authorities, the committee was told.

    Mr Vine also criticised the agency’s “confusing” use of jargon, acronyms and “imprecise” language, which he said made a complicated system “less easy to understand less transparent”.

    ‘Poor service’
    In his latest report,, on the UKBA’s handling of legacy asylum and migration cases, Mr Vine found a third of letters from lawyers and MPs were repeat requests for information about ongoing asylum cases.

    “By any benchmark of a public sector organisation, that’s a poor level of service,” he said before adding that complaints handling in other parts of the UKBA he had inspected had been “equally poor”.

    He said 7% of UKBA files had gone missing and others had been duplicated and were “floating” around the system – but the biggest problem was the organisation’s working culture.

    “Workers in the agency don’t see the people behind the files,” he told the MPs.

    Last month, Mr Vine accused the UKBA of supplying inaccurate information to MPs about the backlog of asylum cases and said Parliament had received incorrect assurances about progress.

    Jonathan Sedgwick, the UKBA’s director of international operations, apologised to the Home Affairs Committee for what he said was an “inadvertent” mistake.

    He said the agency had always tried to give MPs accurate information on unresolved cases but there was a “necessary imprecision” about the figures because of the number of years over which they had accumulated.

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