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Rishi Sunak’s vow to clear asylum backlog caused ‘perverse’ decisions – report

By PA News

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The Government’s desire to clear a backlog of asylum seeker cases led to “perverse” decisions being made, a report found.

In December 2022, Rishi Sunak pledged to “abolish” a 92,000-strong backlog by the end of 2023.

However, sacked borders and immigration watchdog David Neal wrote in a report published on Thursday: “I am concerned that the focus on clearing the legacy backlog ‘at all costs’ has led to perverse outcomes for claimants and staff.

“The number of claims that have been withdrawn and counted as ‘outcomes’ has soared, 22% of all decisions made since June 2022 were withdrawals, and, incredibly, only one underwent formal quality assurance. This is not acceptable.

“Routine quality assurance on interviews and decisions has also been sacrificed for increased productivity.

“This has the potential to add to the appeals queue as a result of poor-quality refusals, and to further prolong the length of time a claimant’s life is put on hold.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a press conference in Downing Street, London (Leon Neal/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a press conference in Downing Street, London (Leon Neal/PA)

Mr Neal said the Home Office has allowed the asylum system to become a “burning platform” which requires “radical action” and drives up costs to the taxpayer.

The Home Office said it acknowledged the “volume and pace of change” required to meet the Prime Minister’s commitment to clear the backlog.

A spokesperson added: “We have taken action to speed up asylum processing whilst maintaining the integrity of the system.

“We intend to continue the momentum built from the legacy backlog clearance and move this forward into dealing with the rest of the backlog, learning lessons from the experience of the past year.”

Another report looked at the use of hotels for housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Mr Neal said the Home Office “must do better”, with several areas where “basic bread-and-butter checks” are not being done.

Investigators spoke to a team leader, with a responsibility of care, who described the process by which they would disclose to children who would be the next to leave for a placement.

This involved “making a game of it”, asking the children to guess who would be next, before revealing their name.

Mr Neal wrote: “Inspectors considered this to be insensitive in the extreme and undoubtedly upsetting to the children.

“While there was no evidence to suggest this practice was adopted more widely, inspectors noted that it was a practice that had not been challenged internally.”

Unaccompanied child asylum seekers are defined as those who have applied for asylum in their own right and are separated from both parents or any other responsible adult.

Local authorities have a legal duty to provide accommodation for them.

Between July 2021 and September 8 2023, there have been 467 episodes of children going missing from hotels, figures showed.

In 320 of these, the child has been found, but 147 children remained unaccounted for.

Home Office staff said this was due to higher numbers of Albanian children, who are at much greater risk of going missing, entering hotels since 2022.

Mr Neal wrote: “Overall, the inspection found that while some progress has been made (from 2022), improvements have not been delivered that could make a significant difference to the experience of children in hotels, such as the provision of written materials in their first language, and provision of advocacy services.

“The Home Office cited the current court proceedings as a reason for some of these improvements being delayed.

“It is wrong to hide behind this as an excuse for lack of progress.

“I am sure the court would not wish to have worse outcomes for children because of ongoing hearings.

“In any case, this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that these improvements should already be in place.”

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