1 November 2023
Asylum system: Doubts and concerns raised around Govt’s approach to backlogs

- 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 by 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.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP questioned during the public hearing the support and communication local authorities were receiving when it came to using hotels to house asylum seekers. He raised a letter sent to him by the leader of Gloucestershire county council, Mark Hawthorne, which included concerns on plans to increase the licence's, essentially doubling up the occupancy at certain hotels. 

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.