The work of the UK Border Agency - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by UKBA

I am writing to follow up a number of issues raised by your Committee at my evidence session on 9 November.

ASYLUM DECISION MAKING PROCESS

The Committee requested information about the asylum decision process. Making decisions on asylum applications is a complex and difficult job and it is one that the UK Border Agency and its case owners take very seriously. The claims of asylum seekers are considered very carefully and on their individual merits.

The agency's Foundation Training course, developed with input from the UNHCR, trains case owners to investigate all aspects of a claim taking into account oral evidence and written evidence from the applicant as well as objective country evidence.

The case owner who conducts the asylum interview is expected to research the issues raised in a claim and to ask relevant questions about the applicant's experiences in the country of origin and, where relevant, since arrival in the UK. Applications are then assessed against detailed background information and guidance available on the situation in the applicant's country of nationality.

Operational Guidance Notes (OGNs) provide an evaluation of the relevant country information and apply that together with general asylum policy and caselaw to provide case owners with clear guidance on how to deal with the main categories of asylum and human rights claims received from applicants from the country concerned. OGNs are informed by the country information provided by the Home Office Country of Origin Information Service, which closely monitors the human rights situation in all the countries that generate asylum seekers to the UK. It provides accurate, objective, sourced and up-to-date information on asylum seekers' countries of origin, for use by UK Border Agency officials involved in the asylum determination process.

Case owners within the UK Border Agency take decisions following caselaw. We accept that this can change constantly but that ultimately, the courts are the final arbiter of the decision to grant or refuse leave.

Regarding the quality of our decision making, UNHCR have praised our quality assurance system in respect of decision making as one of the best there is. With European Commission and UNHCR support. we are engaged in a UNHCR-led project (with Germany and Austria) to export these assurance mechanisms to 14 EU states.

The agency recognises that more needs to be done to speed up the process. We have set up the Asylum Improvement Project to increase productivity and speed up the processing of applications. Furthermore, we have designed a new performance framework, to move from an exclusive focus on the six month conclusion rate target to a broader focus which will show the health of the overall asylum system. One of the indicators is the percentage of adult initial decisions taken within 30 days. We are committed to raising this performance and have seen performance rise from 25% in the August 2008 cohort to 72% for the August 2010 cohort But, we know that speed is not everything which is why we will also have a stretching quality indicator to ensure that we have good quality speedy decisions. These indicators will form part of the agency business plan.

I hope you can see from the above that the agency takes its responsibilities very seriously and takes all decisions only after careful consideration of the facts. The agency is well aware of its obligations under the 1951 Convention and the ECHR and is proud to provide protection under both. However, we are equally determined that those applicants who both the agency and the courts are satisfied do not need our protection and refuse to leave voluntarily are removed in a timely fashion.

CHILDREN IN DETENTION

The Committee also requested information about the numbers of children in detention, those who claim to be children and alternative ways for dealing with children who are under the control of organised crime gangs.

The Committee will be aware that the Coalition Government is committed to ending the detention of children for immigration purposes and we have been working with our partners to find suitable alternatives.

We have already made considerable progress. Two pilots are being conducted (one in the North West and one in London) to test out new ways of affecting family returns. Both pilots are following broadly the same process of working with the family in the community, and seeking to give them every opportunity to return by making their own preparations for departure. We need to be sure that the process we adopt will work in practice.

Where we have had to detain as a very last resort we have been doing so in much smaller numbers and for a shorter length of time (the average now being less than four days compared to around 13 days last year).

As I said to the Committee when I gave evidence, this does however present challenges and we are now working to find alternatives which in fact do not create a perverse incentive and lead to poorer outcomes for children. In particular, we are alert to the increased risk of trafficking and will continue to monitor this.

The Committee also asked about the number of asylum applicants whose claim to be a child is disputed by the UK Border Agency and while that has reduced significantly over the last year—270 age disputes were recorded for the first six months of 2010, which is 62% lower than the same period in 2009 (705)—we continue to monitor this closely.

RULE 35 OF THE DETENTION CENTRE RULES

The Committee requested further information about the publication of the audit of the implementation of Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001. Rule 35 relates to special illnesses and conditions, and the circumstances in which the medical practitioner at an immigration removal centre must report and handle those special illnesses and conditions. I can confirm that an evaluation into Rule 35 is presently being conducted. The main areas of focus (response compliance and timescales) were suggested by the Medical Foundation and other NGOs. Following internal discussion in September, it was decided to publish the report later than planned to allow for further valuable analysis to be undertaken. We have given a commitment to advise Ministers of our findings on this issue by the end of November prior to publishing the report before the end of 2010. I will ensure that the Committee receives a copy once the report is published.

COST OF THE FACILITATED RETURN SCHEME

I informed the Committee in my letter of 4 February 2010 that we expected the cost of the Facilitated Return Scheme (FRS) in 2009-10 to be approximately £6.3 million. Actual expenditure for the year was £7.1 million (inclusive of £2.3 million of EU funding). The higher spend was due to higher than expected numbers of foreign nationals taking up the scheme FRS had accounted for around 30% of the 5,530 foreign national prisoner removals in 2009, but that proportion increased to around 50% in the first two quarters of 2010 (against total removals of 2425).

The cost of running the scheme in 2010-11 is currently estimated at £9.7 million (including up to £2.7 million of EU funding). It is anticipated that the lower package values awarded from 1 October 2010 will mean an overall reduction in expenditure on the scheme In future. The financial impact may not be immediate though, as those approved for FRS prior to 1 October 2010 and removed by March 2011 will have six months from the date of their return to claim the assistance, and will still be entitled to claim the higher values offered under the previous terms of the scheme. I remain of the view that FRS is a practical solution which saves the taxpayer money in the long-run, and means foreign criminals can be removed as soon as possible denying them the opportunity to re-offend or prolong the process with frivolous judicial challenges.

MR JIMMY MUBENGA

Finally, I need to clarify that the Person Escort Record (PER), a copy of which I gave to the Committee, is currently used by the police and the Prison Service and is now being piloted by the agency. Mr Mubenga's information was not recorded on this particular form but on a collection of forms throughout the time he was with us. I can assure the Committee that he had a full risk assessment which considered his conduct and known medical records as provided by a qualified medical practitioner, and the information was made available to the escorts. I enclose a blank copy of the actual form used in his case.[1]

One of the reasons we are piloting the PER is to ensure that risk assessment is conducted in a uniform manner and is recorded in a common format. I trust this letter assures you that we nonetheless take risk assessment very seriously.

I will write to you again In March 2011 with my next update letter.

November 2010



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