The Immigration and Nationality Directorate
27. The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND)
is part of the Home Office responsible for immigration control
at air and sea ports and considers applications for permission
to stay, citizenship and asylum in the UK. IND underwent major
organisational change in 1998. In his memorandum to the Committee
the Ombudsman commented that "serious delay has again been
the most common theme of complaint" and that administrative
problems arising from IND's reorganisation in 1998 still remain,
including the loss of important documents (among them passports),
mislaid files and failure to respond to letters. Sir Michael said
that the rising number of complaints concerning asylum applicants
was "not surprising" given that IND failed to meet its
own internal targets for consideration and decisions. Some applications
for asylum were refused on the grounds that applicants had failed
to return their statement of evidence forms within the ten day
deadline. However, in some cases, the statements were returned
in the time, but IND failed to link them to the relevant file.
In his memorandum, Sir Michael welcomed the steps taken by IND
to speed up their consideration of cases and their greater flexibility
when offering financial redress. However, he was also concerned
that "IND continue to put forward to me the view that, because
delays routinely occur from pressure of work, those delays should
not be held to be maladministrative".
28. In February 2000 the then Director of IND, Mr
Stephen Boys Smith, said in evidence to us that he believed they
had "turned the corner".
In May 2001 Mr Boys Smith believed IND has "made considerable
progress", but admitted on having "had a lot of difficulties".
The Deputy Director of IND, Mr Peter Wrench, told us in June 2002
that "the corner is turning out to be longer than we had
He attributed the problem to "a false impression of how well
we had done in getting the asylum backlog down" and to the
increased volume of work coming in: "you can have as good
a system as you like but if you are pouring more and more cases
into it, it is not going to be able to cope".
He added "we are trying to hit a moving target both in terms
of volume and in terms of customer expectations". 
While we acknowledge that IND's workload has increased, we share
Sir Michael's view that this is no excuse for bad administration.
Staffing at IND has doubled over the last three years, to some
10,000 people, and Mr Wrench assured us that all the staff were
committed to IND: we expect this commitment to extend to the service
they provide to the public.
29. When IND was reorganised in 1998 it was intended
that a computerised case working system would replace the existing
paper-based one. Mr Wrench told us that to pay for the new system,
and because the computers would be doing the job, the number of
case workers would be "run down". However, "the
system did not materialise, the case load was going up, we had
fewer case workers to deal with it".
Mr Wrench commented "I think IND and the Home Office had
an over-rosy expectation of what the system was capable of delivering
and the timescale for doing it".
Since then IND have used IT and people to build a system incrementally,
which Mr Wrench admitted "has produced less dramatic benefits
than might have been achieved".
This is an important issue across government. Sir John Bourn,
the Comptroller and Auditor General, commenting on an IT scheme
for magistrates' courts said that "up-to-date contingency
plans should be in place on all major contracts so that there
is a fallback position if it goes wrong".
It would appear to us that rather than being just 'an over-rosy
expectation', the decision to get rid of experienced case workers
before a system was in place verges on administrative negligence.
In the current political atmosphere surrounding the question of
asylum such mistakes can have especially unhappy consequences.
The Legal Services Commission
30. The Legal Services Commission (LSC) is an executive
non-departmental public body of the Lord Chancellor's Department
(LCD) created under the Access to Justice Act 1999 to replace
the Legal Aid Board. It is responsible for the development and
administration of the Community Legal Service and Criminal Defence
Service, which replaced the civil and criminal legal aid systems
respectively. Complaints concerning LSC received by the Ombudsman
generally fall into two categories: legally aided persons with
concerns about repayment of aid, and the granting of legal aid
to an opponent. LSC's computer system, Corporate Information System
(CIS) was introduced in 1998. Sir Michael told us "From the
outset, it does not seem to have been fully reliable. It appears
that, as a result, many people have been misled about their outstanding
liability". In addition to incorrect computerised information,
manual accounts have errors. LSC expected their clients to work
out their repayments based on the actual charge at outset and
continued to issue incorrect information without alerting account
holders to the possibility of errors. "I do not find this
situation satisfactory" was Sir Michael's response. He was
"also concerned that LSC frequently fail to meet my Office's
deadlines for replies to enquires and responding to draft reports".
31. Although it was introduced in 1998, faults in
CIS were not discovered until 2001. Mr Steve Orchard of LSC told
us that the government's policy to create a community legal service
was "heavily focused, if not entirely focused, on the reform
programme. There is no doubt that there was not the same attention
as there would otherwise have been... on the core business".
He added that it was the most complex aspect of the system which
had let LSC down.
32. Of the dubious statements that LSC continue to
send out, Mr Orchard told us "some of them will be right,
some of them will be wrong, and it is part of the problem we do
not know which is which at the point those statements are generated".
He added that because the system could not be fixed without affecting
other parts of the system he had decided to continue until a complete
solution could be found.
24 Q 107 Back
Q 109 Back
Q 120-3 Back
OM 5, HC 563-iii Back
OM 5, 563-iii Back
Session 1999-2000, HC 106, Q170 Back
Session 2000-01, HC 62-ii, Q30 Back
Session 2002-03, HC 371 Back
OM 5, 563-iii Back