Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary note by the Lord Chancellor


  1.  The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 provides for a right of appeal against the refusal of a visa to visit a family member; it also provides power to make these appeals subject to a fee. No other appeals under the Act may be subject to fees. This is because family visits often relate to an important event like a wedding; so, for the appeal right to be meaningful, appeals must be processed swiftly. It is reasonable to expect appellants to pay something for this priority service.

  2.  The new appeal right came into force on 2 October 2000. Regulations provided for a fee of £150 for appeals to be resolved on the papers and £500 for oral appeals. These fees were based on estimates of the number of appeals and the full cost to the Immigration Appellate Authority (IAA) of handling them.

  3.  The Government estimated the likely number of appeals at 19,500 (of which 80 per cent would be on the papers). This was based on information from overseas posts about the likely number of visas refused for family visits (39,000); and an estimate of the proportion of appeals against visa refusals (50 per cent). With hindsight, this estimate took insufficient account of the potential impact on the appeal rate of charging a fee and was far too high.

  4.  The estimate of the IAA's cost, on the other hand, was the lowest of a range of figures. The Government had previously proposed fees of £580 and £280 based on a mid-range estimate. In the light of representations, we decided that, given the inevitable uncertainty in estimating the cost of a new process, it was right to err initially on the low side. But subject to that, the intention was to cover the full cost to the IAA in line with the normal principles for Government fees and charges.

  5.  The fees were not set to cover the additional costs incurred by entry posts in handling these appeals and fees. The full cost of the entry clearance system is already covered by the fees payable on applying for the visa itself, and it was estimated that these additional costs could be absorbed through increasing efficiency without any impact of those fees. It was also considered inappropriate for the fees to cover the costs to the Home Office of sending Presenting Officers to oral hearings.

  6.  The Regulations also provide for the fee to be refunded if the appeal is successful. These refunds are not the responsibility of the IAA, which incurs the same costs whatever the result of an appeal. They are paid from a separate budget by the Home Office, the Department with policy responsibility for family visitor appeals.

  7.  The new right of appeal applies to decisions made on or after 2 October 2000; appellants then have 28 days to lodge their appeal. The first appeal was received by the IAA on 27 October. Between then and 24 January 2001, 223 family visit visa appeals were received by the IAA (all but 18 lodged before the fees were reduced on 12 January). Of these, 174 (78 per cent) were paper applications.

  8.  The number of appeals was therefore much lower than originally expected, and it seemed clear that the level of the fees was having an unacceptable deterrent effect. This was no doubt a consequence of the particular circumstances of appellants from overseas, many of whom come from poorer countries. The Government therefore concluded that the normal principle of full cost recovery was unsustainable in this case. With a lower number of cases, it would have been necessary to set even higher fees to cover the fixed elements in the cost of the appeal system. We therefore decided, in January, that the fees should be reduced to £50 and £125 for paper and oral cases respectively. We also revised our forecast of the likely number of appeals, and now forecast a total of about 9,750 appeals in a full year, with 40 per cent being paper cases and 60 per cent oral cases.

  9.  The fees will not now be able to cover the full cost of these appeals to the IAA. Under the revised forecasts, we expect that cost to be £4.6 million and gross fee revenue of £920,000 (20 per cent).

  10.  However, this shortfall will be partly offset by savings to the Home Office on the cost of making refunds in successful cases (as a result of lower numbers and lower fees). The cost of administering the appeal right at overseas posts will continue to be absorbed within existing revenue. Overall, the effect of the revised fees and forecasts on public spending is negligible.

Irvine of Lairg

1 February 2001

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