Separating fact from fiction: the agency's tracing programme
for the legacy cases
10. The Inspector's report makes
it clear that, contrary to its public claims, the Agency was not
carrying out its full programme of checks on legacy cases either
before or after they were placed in the controlled archives. The
Agency has repeatedly told this Committee that it could have confidence
that legacy applicants were no longer in the country as an extensive
checking programme carried out over five years had not found any
trace of them. We know that there are a significant number of
failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants living in the UK
and avoiding contact with public authorities. Recent figures from
the London School of Economics put the number of illegal immigrants
in the UK at 618,000 and in 2008 the Red Cross reported that it
had been approached for help by 10,000 destitute asylum seekers.
Therefore, no tracing programme was likely to discover everyone
who had slipped through the net. The fact that a sustained and
thorough tracing programme did not even take place makes it even
less likely that individuals living here have been identified.
It is possible that tens of thousands of individuals whom the
Agency has not been able to trace are still here.
THE AGENCY'S RESPONSE TO THE CHIEF
11. There have been three Chief Executives of
the Border Agency since it was established in 2006:
- Lin Homer, now Chief Executive
of HMRC (August 2005- January 2010);
- Jonathan Sedgwick, Acting Chief Executive (January
2010 - September 2011), now Director of International Operations
and Visas; and
- Rob Whiteman (since September 2011).
All three individuals have now apologised for supplying
the Committee with inaccurate information on the asylum backlog.
12. Lin Homer
has apologised for wrongly telling the Committee that the group
of 40,000 immigration cases discovered in October 2009 had been
immediately checked against the Police National Computer and the
Watchlist. In fact, with the exception of 800 cases, The Agency
did not make these checks until 18 months later between April
and June 2011. She has
not however apologised for giving the Committee incorrect information
about the size of the asylum backlog.
13. Jonathan Sedgwick
has apologised for wrongly telling the Committee that cases being
placed in the controlled archives were checked against 19 databases.
I informed your committee that legacy asylum cases
being placed in the controlled archive were checked against 19
databases ... it is now clear to me that this is not correct and
that I should have said 'up to 19 databases'.
We welcome Mr Sedgwick's apology, however, according
to the Inspector's report, the majority of cases had not been
checked against any databases at all.
14. Rob Whiteman
wrote to us following the publication of the Inspector's report
and said that he takes the provision of inaccurate information
to the Committee 'very seriously'.
He went on to list the actions he had taken when he realised
that the tracing programme had not been carried out properly:
- Set up an internal investigation
by the Agency's Professional Standards unit.
- Ensured a proper programme of checks was started.
- Set up a disciplinary investigation.
We understand from Mr Whiteman that a new unit, the
Performance and Compliance Unit, has been set up to improve the
quality of the data provided by the Agency to Parliament and the
public. This unit will be subject to independent scrutiny by the
Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration.
15. Mr Whiteman did not however
inform this Committee that the Agency had regularly supplied it
with incorrect information since 2006. This in our view is unacceptable
and undermines Mr Whiteman's claims to take the provision of accurate
information to the Committee seriously. No senior official in
the Border Agency took any steps to alert this Committee to what
had happened until the Independent Chief Inspector published his
report. This is hardly the mark of a transparent organisation
which recognises its accountability to Parliament. Instead the
Agency appears to have tried to sweep its mistakes under the carpet
in the hope that they would remain unnoticed.
16. We are astonished that the
Agency provided this Committee, and its predecessors, with information
that turned out to be patently wrong on so many occasions over
the last six years. If it was not attempting to mislead the Committee
then it must be a sign that senior officials had no idea as to
what was actually going on in their organisation. We find it very
hard to believe that no one within the Agency had any idea that
checks were not being carried out as they should have been and
we expect the Agency to share the findings of its disciplinary
investigation with us as soon as it is completed.
17. However, we welcome the
establishment of the Performance and Compliance Unit within the
Agency, if indeed it will actually ensure
that the data provided are robust and reliable, and really can
be relied on. We also welcome
the oversight that the Chief Inspector will have of its work.
We expect this to mark
the beginning of a move towards greater transparency on behalf
of the Agency; transparency that is evidenced by accurate and
clear information provided to Parliament in a timely manner.
The tracing programme since April
18. The Agency says that all the cases in the
controlled archives were subject to a full checking programme
between April 2012 and the closure of the archives on 21 November.
In total, 64,600 asylum cases and 15,700 immigration cases
have been closed as the Agency cannot trace the applicants.
The Agency asked Deloitte to carry out assurance work on the cases
in the archives to make sure that the checking programme had been
completed properly. Deloitte checked a sample of 1,000 cases (810
asylum cases and 190 immigration cases). This represented only
1.2% of the total number of cases in the archives.
A summary of the checks the Agency said it had carried out and
Deloitte's subsequent findings can be seen in the diagram below.
The Agency's final tracing programme and the findings
of Deloitte's assurance work
CHECKS AGAINST DWP'S DATABASES
19. We understand from the Agency that it identified
and flagged to Deloitte its failure to check some of the immigration
cases against DWP's databases twice. This amounted to 19% of the
cases in Deloitte's total sample but all of the cases in question
came from the immigration controlled archive. On the basis of
this sample there is no evidence that any of the 15,953 immigration
cases received two checks against the DWP's databases prior to
Deloitte's assurance work. Deloitte has verified that the cases
in its sample have now been subject to two DWP checks using retrospective
DWP records from June. We also
understand that DWP has provided a 'statement of assurance about
the data'. We expect the Agency to provide us with a copy of the
Department of Work and Pensions' statement about the checks performed
by the Agency against its databases. The Agency must also tell
us how many of the cases this statement of assurance applies to.
20. The Agency's and Deloitte's
assurance processes showed that a number of cases with a 'matchkey
three' level match against DWP's data had been wrongly placed
into the controlled archives instead of the live cohort. If Deloitte's
findings are extrapolated to account for the whole controlled
archive this could have applied to around 300 cases in total.
The Agency says it has double checked all closed cases to ensure
that those with a level three match or higher have been transferred
to the live cohort.
Deloitte has verified
that this has taken place in relation to the cases in its sample.
We are satisfied that misallocation to the controlled archive
of cases with a 'matchkey three' against DWP data has, most likely,
been corrected appropriately.
21. We are concerned that 328 cases were not
able to have a Police National Computer check completed because
of poor-quality data, this is equivalent to around 1,100 cases
in the combined archive. We are also concerned that 28 cases were
identified as having such poor data that they could not have a
Watchlist check because they were missing information such as
a surname, address or date of birth. We are astounded that anyone
would be able to apply for a visa or for asylum without providing
this information. When we asked the Agency how this was possible
it said that:
'data held for these legacy cases contained errors
and duplication and that records for some of the cases predated
the electronic information held on the Case Information Database
(CID). Incomplete records may have occurred during the migration
of previously held electronic data onto CID'.
22. It is totally unacceptable
for case records to be missing such fundamental data which enables
them to undergo important security checks. We cannot understand
how this can have been allowed to happen for so many applications.
We recognise that this issue is a historical rather than a current
failing on the Agency's behalf and one that should be attributed
to its leadership at the time the applications were made. The
Agency says it is satisfied with the action it took to try and
improve the data quality by reformatting it.
given that 328 cases were still unable to undergo a PNC check
and 28 were unable to be checked against the Watchlist we regard
this as a most unsatisfactory consequence.
CASES WITH A HIT ON THE POLICE NATIONAL
23. Of Deloitte's sample, 29% of cases had a
'hit' on the Police National Computer, 22 were confirmed and 267
were 'possible'. The Agency says that it only required Deloitte
to confirm that the check had been carried out, not to comment
on the outcome of the check, therefore Deloitte has said that
'no remediation is required' as the 'relevant PNC check has been
The Agency tells us that in total there were 3,077 cases
with previous hits on the Police National Computer but no contact
information to enable the case to be progressed even after it
re-ran these cases against the Computer's live database.
The Agency tells us these cases can be broken down into
the following categories:
- 1,502 cases had a positive
hit on the PNC for 'non-criminal reasons such as holding a firearms
licence. These case remain closed'.
that these individuals are unlikely to pose a security risk but
we are puzzled that there is no contact information available
for any of them. In the example given by the Agency (holding a
shotgun licence), licence-holders have to supply their name and
- 1,468 cases had convictions that predated April
2011 and were considered as addressed as part of the Case Review
Directorate's work on the controlled archives. Therefore the Agency
did not re-open these cases.
Given the Agency's poor record
in carrying out checks on legacy cases prior to April 2012 we
are by no means reassured that this issue has been addressed properly.
We recommend the Agency re-examines these cases individually before
closing them and reports its findings to this Committee. The public
has a right to know about individuals who may be living in their
communities with no legal right to be here and who may have committed
criminal offences whilst in the country..
- 24 cases have been identified as having an impending
prosecution, the Agency is working with the police to trace the
individuals in question.
- 83 cases had a PNC hit which post-dated April
2011, again the Agency is working with the police to trace these
individuals. We are concerned
to hear that the authorities do not have contact details for individuals
who are awaiting prosecution or who have recently been in contact
with the police. It is vital that the Agency continues to work
with the police and prosecutors to try and locate these individuals.
24. We are disappointed that
even after the Inspector's discovery in April 2012, the Agency
failed to carry out its programme of checks properly. This is
especially worrying given that the controlled archives were to
be closed upon completion. We had expected the Agency to take
a thorough approach to the task, one that demonstrated awareness
of its responsibility to trace all the individuals it was possible
to trace and to ensure that all cases were closed appropriately.
25. The exceptions uncovered as a result of Deloitte's
and the Agency's assurance work raise concerns that, despite the
remediation carried out by the Agency, there are still potentially
hundreds of legacy applicants in the UK of whom the Agency has
found a footprint but has not been able to locate.
26. The uncovered exceptions
aside, we find it difficult to agree with the Agency that:
'Doing these checks means we have
confirmed that individuals are not working, receiving benefits,
have financial products or have come into contact with the police.
Where there is no trace of the individual we have to conclude
that they are no longer in the UK.'
27. We know that there are a
large number of failed asylum and immigration applicants living
in the shadows in the UK who are unlikely to have records on many
of the databases searched by the Agency. Based on evidence seen
so far we do not believe that the checking programme, even when
properly completed, can offer reassurance that all 80,300 applicants
whose cases the Agency has now closed have left the UK.
28. Mr Whiteman has told us
'if in the future...an individual
from a closed case does come to the attention of the UK Border
Agency, the case will be reactivated and progressed.'
We are unsure as to how any matches
with the controlled archive cases will be achieved. We expect
the Agency to tell us what mechanisms it has in place for flagging
up individuals it come into contact with who have a record in
the closed archives.
Asylum cases that were not reported
to this Committee
29. A key discovery made by the Chief Inspector
of Borders and Immigration was that 33,000 legacy asylum applications
being caseworked by the CAAU were not reported to the Committee
as part of the asylum legacy backlog. These cases included Active
Review cases, Leave in Line cases and cases affected by data quality
errors. CAAU staff
told the Inspector that they represented 30-40% of their work.
The Inspector's report said that it:
'remains unclear as to why these statistics were
excluded, as the original asylum claims all fell before March
2007. We therefore....recommend that the UK Border Agency ensures
that all the information it provides to the Home Affairs Select
Committee is accurate and includes all legacy cases where asylum
applications were made before March 2007.'
30. When he gave evidence to this Committee the
Inspector told us that
'They [CAAU staff] were adamant that the cases had
not been reported to you. It was something of a bugbear for the
staff in the CAAU, because 30% to 40% of their work fell into
this category and they felt it was not being reported or acknowledged'.
He also told us that when his draft inspection report
was sent to the Agency for factual checking this conclusion was
31. When Lin Homer, the Chief Executive of the
Agency from August 2005 until January 2010, came to give evidence
to this Committee she told us that these cases had been reported
to the Committee but not as part of the asylum backlog.
We challenged Ms Homer's statement on the basis of the Inspector's
report but Ms Homer continued to insist throughout the session
that she has reported the cases to the Committee.
'I would repeat that I don't believe those 33,000
cases were not brought to this Committee. I think they were not
brought under the CRD banner'.
We put it to Ms Homer that she had supplied the information:
'In such a way that we could not find it...and the
Chief Inspector also didn't find it'.
32. Ms Homer undertook to write to the Committee
setting out the evidence in which she had reported these cases.
Her statements and our response can be seen from the diagram below.
Lin Homer's statements about the unreported asylum
33. We do not believe that Ms Homer informed
this, or our predecessor committees about the cohort of cases
in question. The statements referred to by Ms Homer have, at best,
a tenuous link with the issue and certainly do not provide evidence
that she informed this Committee about the full extent of the
asylum backlog. We are supported in this opinion by the Chief
Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, who told us that,
despite Ms Homer's statements:
'I stand by my report...I do not recognise those
figures as being part of this issue'.
34. It is appalling that a senior
civil servant should have misled the Committee in the way that
Ms Homer did and that she continues, even in the light of the
Inspector's findings, to try and evade responsibility for her
failings. Reference to important figures in an obscure footnote
in a previous letter is not an acceptable response. The Inspector's
findings about the asylum and immigration backlog are the latest
in a long line of failings in the Border Agency, many of which
occurred throughout Ms Homer's time as Chief Executive.
35. When he gave evidence to us the Chief Inspector
said that, in respect of dealing with the asylum and immigration
backlog the Agency was not fit for purpose.
He also said that there was 'a lack of transparency' in
the Agency and that 'customer and complaints handling ... are
Furthermore the Inspector commented that 'sometimes this Agency
feels as though it were in silos'.
He went on to offer several examples of incidents where
different Directorates within the Agency had been unaware of each
others' work on the same cases. He cited in particular the case
of an individual who, at his appeal for Further Leave to Remain
in the UK, produced a letter from the Agency granting him leave
to remain which the Agency's Presenting Officer was completely
In fact the Inspector could only name one part of the Agency
that he judged to be performing well, the International Directorate.
36. This whole episode raises
serious concerns about the accountability of the most senior civil
servants to Parliament. It is shocking that after five years under
Lin Homer's leadership an organisation that was described at the
beginning of the period as being 'not fit for purpose' should
have improved its performance so little. Given this background,
we are astounded that Ms Homer has been promoted to become Chief
Executive and Permanent Secretary at Her Majesty's Revenue and
Customs and can therefore have little confidence in her ability
to lead HMRC at what is a challenging time for that organisation.
Indeed we note from Ms Homer's appearance before the Public Accounts
Committee in January that one million letters were left unanswered
at HMRC throughout 2012 and that 100,000 of these still remained
unanswered on the date of her appearance before the Public Accounts
37. We recommend that Parliament
be given a stronger role in the pre-appointment scrutiny of civil
servants who will be leading government departments and we believe
this strengthens the case for select committees to be given the
power of veto. The status quo, in which catastrophic leadership
failure is no obstacle to promotion, is totally unacceptable.
We recommend that in future any failures of this nature should
have serious consequences for the individual's career.
38. Rob Whiteman has since written
to this Committee and told us that the Agency did not continue
to include these asylum cases in the legacy backlog because:
'On expiry of their limited leave
these individuals will need to make a fresh application for further
leave to remain should they wish to remain in the UK and therefore
no action was required by the CRD and CAAU teams working on the
39. This statement appears to
be at odds with the report from the Chief Inspector which found
that these cases represented 30-40% of the CAAU's casework and
that staff were upset that this substantial element of their work
was not being reported to this Committee. It is difficult to see
how both the Chief Inspector's findings and Mr Whiteman's statement
can be correct and we expect Mr Whiteman to clarify the issue
40. Mr Whiteman also told us that, having analysed
the Active Review cases
'We estimate that there are currently 11,000 Active
Review cases. These cases will be managed as part of a new Directorate,
Complex Casework Directorate, which will be established early
next year to manage the Agency's older and complex cases'.
We expect the Agency to tell us
how these 11,000 Active Review cases relate to the group of 33,000
cases uncovered by the Chief Inspector. We also note that, far
from having cleared the backlog, the Agency appears to be setting
up a new directorate, the Complex Casework Directorate, to solve
the more difficult cases which still remain outstanding. The Agency
needs to tell us how this new Directorate is related to the CAAU
and the backlog casework that they are currently concluding. Further
comments on the Agency's use of changing terminology to disguise
unresolved problems can be found in the section below.
Other issues about the clearing
of the asylum and immigration backlogs
USE OF TERMINOLOGY
41. The Agency's target for the legacy programme
was to conclude all legacy cases by the summer of 2011. However,
as shown by the diagram below, when it became clear that it wasn't
going to make this target the Agency simply changed its definition
of 'conclusion' and set up a new directorate to deal with un-concluded
Changes to the Agency's definition of 'conclusion'
42. The Agency did not conclude
its work on the legacy programme within its original target time.
Rather than admit this, it simply sent the cases which it had
reviewed but not yet concluded off to a new unit, the Case Assurance
and Audit Unit (CAAU). We are disappointed that the Agency chose
to address the issue in this way. The Agency's action in setting
up a further Directorate, the Complex Casework Directorate, to
conclude difficult older cases suggests to us that, despite its
claims, the Agency has no intention of taking a more transparent
approach to terminology and reporting in the future.
43. It is unclear as to what genuinely new purpose
the CAAU was set up to achieve. The handover of cases between
units led to unnecessary confusion, resulting in extra work and
delay. The Chief Inspector found that:
- There was no strategic oversight
of the transition from the CRD to the CAAU and that management
of the change was 'fundamentally flawed;'
- over 9,000 cases that had not even been reviewed
by the CRD were transferred to the CAAU in error;
- the CAAU was inadequately resourced for the task
it was given;
- and, as discussed below, the Agency's correspondence
handling over this period was seriously flawed.
44. Keeping the cases in the
Case Resolution Directorate and concluding them properly would
have been a more prudent and transparent approach than establishing
the Case Assurance and Audit Unit to take on cases which were
not concluded by the Case Review Directorate.
CORRESPONDENCE WITH APPLICANTS,
LEGAL REPRESENTATIVES AND MPS
45. The Inspector's report found that throughout
the handover of cases from the CRD to the CAAU the Agency was
completely overwhelmed with correspondence from affected individuals,
their legal representatives and MPs. The Inspector found that,
throughout July and August 2011 there were in excess of 100,000
pieces of post in the CAAU which were inherited from the CRD in
March 2011. At one point, he said, over 150 boxes of post from
applicants, Members and legal representatives ' lay unopened in
a room in Liverpool'.
The Inspector told this Committee that much of the correspondence
was generated by the Agency and its commercial partner rushing
to chase up cases before the closure of the CRD. In his opinion,
this led to many cases being put into the controlled archives
46. As regards terminology, it is indeed very
confusing the way in which designation is given to what is essentially
a very large backlog. In this report, we have mentioned the controlled
archives, the Case Assurance and Audit Unit, Case Review Directorate,
Active Review cases, and now a new one, Complex Casework Directorate,
leaving aside the Performance and Compliance Unit mentioned earlier.
What all this means cannot be clear to the public, the legal profession,
or for that matter the media, who want to know the latest and
accurate situation of outstanding applications to UKBA, and how
long they have been outstanding.
47. We agree that this shambolic
approach to correspondence is likely to have led to many cases
being placed in the controlled archives when in fact the applicant
was trying to make contact with the Agency. The deluge of correspondence
was no doubt the result of the Agency publicly claiming to have
cleared its backlog when it had not done so and a poorly timed
mail merge exercise to the nine thousand or more individuals whose
cases were passed to the CAAU without even being reviewed by the
CRD. On this issue alone, of totally misplaced boxes of correspondence
involving thousands of cases, we can only conclude the organisation
has been poorly led and mismanaged. We hope that the Agency will
learn from this episode and undertake to finish programmes properly
in the future instead of fudging its terminology to meet targets.