Reforming the UK border and immigration system - Public Accounts Committee Contents

1  Performance and reporting

1. On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Home Office (the Department) about progress in reforming the UK border and immigration system.[1]

2. The Department took direct control of border and immigration activities in March 2013 following the abolition of the UK Border Agency (the Agency). The Home Secretary cited four main issues that prompted the decision: the Agency's large size which made it difficult to operate effectively and manage crises; inadequate IT systems; the overly complex policy and legal framework in which it operated; and a lack of transparency and accountability.[2]

3. Two new directorates were created within the Home Office to handle the former Agency's work. UK Visas and Immigration considers and concludes all applications to visit, study, work and stay in the UK: in 2013-14 it processed some 3.5 million separate applications for visas. Immigration Enforcement is responsible for ensuring people who do not have a right to remain in the UK depart.[3] A third directorate, Border Force, which is responsible for maintaining the border controls that are the first point of contact with the 100 million individuals that arrive in the UK each year, had already been split off from the Agency in March 2012.[4] The Department plans in total to spend some £1.8 billion on immigration and border operations in 2014-15.[5]

4. In 2012 the Department set up the 'Older Live Cases Unit' to deal with some 400,000 pre-March 2007 asylum and migration claims that were still in the system. This caseload was reduced to 41,000 cases after a review which removed errors, duplicates and individuals who had already left the country.[6] The Department told us that the number of outstanding cases now stood at 29,000, with a worrying 11,000 backlog cases where no initial decision had been reached. The Department noted that it was on track to make a decision on all of these 11,000 cases by the end of 2014.[7]

5. The Department considered that there were two main reasons why older asylum claims had not been resolved. First, many of the applicants made further submissions based on changes in their circumstances.[8] Secondly, the Department told us it had inherited a very large number of these asylum claims from the former Agency. However, most of the staff now working in the Department had worked in the Agency prior to the transfer.[9] The delay in resolving asylum claims was also due in part to a lack of incentives for caseworkers to work on claims once the targets for how long an asylum decision should take were missed.[10]

6. The Department took over the Agency's work to improve performance. But the Department is already missing its new targets for processing new asylum claims. As a result, the number of asylum claims awaiting an initial decision increased by 70% to 16,273 in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.[11] The Department admitted that the asylum system was under pressure and attributed this in part to "an ill-judged decision" in 2012 by the Agency, subsequently reversed by the Department, to downgrade asylum caseworkers from Higher Executive Officer (HEO) to Executive Officer (EO), which led to 120 HEOs leaving the Department. The Department told us it wanted to recruit an additional 400 staff to help deal with asylum cases.[12] While it was not meeting its own internal targets for processing asylum claims, the Department planned to do so by March 2015 for all cases deemed 'workable' (those not blocked because a decision cannot be made, for example if they are part of a criminal investigation).[13]

7. When the Department created the immigration directorates it also created an independent performance directorate responsible for producing reports required to track progress dealing with immigration and asylum applications.[14] The Accounting Officer noted that this new directorate provided better management information than that available to his predecessors and was confident that these management reports gave the Board a "single version of the truth." However, the Department admitted that it had not completely resolved data quality issues. In April 2014 the Department conducted random checks on data stored on the Casework Information Database and found basic data missing: 34% of sampled asylum cases did not have the minimum data required at the decision stage, while 84% of removal cases did not have the minimum data required to complete a removal (for example, a correct address or postcode).[15] Previous reports from this Committee have recommended that the Department improve the quality of its case data and it is disappointing to see there has not been more improvement.[16]

8. A major cause of poor data quality on individual cases is the old-fashioned IT systems in use. The Department told us that the planned Immigration Case Work (ICW) IT programme would have allowed data on individual cases to be automatically aggregated in management reports. However, as a result of the failure of that project the Department has to continue to rely on existing legacy IT systems to store case data and produce management reports.[17] The lack of accurate and timely management data make it difficult to hold the Department to account for its performance. In a subsequent note provided after the evidence session, the Department still did not provide information on the number of asylum claims in the system that are not currently being worked on. They were still unable to tell us the impact on asylum support costs of delays in making initial decisions on asylum claims.[18]

9. The Agency had planned to reduce costs by £594 million between 2011-12 and 2014 -15. The Department told us that £345 million of those savings had been delivered by the Agency before it was abolished and the remaining £249 million savings had subsequently been allocated across the new immigration directorates.[19] However this had not been done by identifying specific efficiencies and savings. Instead the budgets for each directorate had been reduced. The Department admitted that its systems were not developed enough to identify the impact of savings in specific business areas. The Department also accepted it was not as efficient as it should be and that it had not yet made adjustments to its business processes to increase productivity and make savings.[20]

1   C&AG's Report, Reforming the UK Border and immigration system, HC 445 Session 2014-15, 22 July 2014 Back

2   C&AG's Report, paras 1.4-1.5 Back

3   Qq 13-16, C&AG's Report, paras 1.4-1.9 Back

4   C&AG's Report, paras 2, 1.10, Figure 2 Back

5   C&AG's Report, para 4.3 Back

6   C&AG's Report, para 2.17 Back

7   Qq 6-8 Back

8   Qq 12, 23 Back

9   Qq 12-13 Back

10   Qq 20-21 Back

11   C&AG's Report, para 2.11 Back

12   Qq 3, 53-54, C&AG's Report, para 4.8 Back

13   Qq 9-10, 24-26 Back

14   C&AG's Report, paras 1.11, 3.8 Back

15   Qq 177-180, C&AG's Report, para 4.16 Back

16   Q 177, Committee of Public Accounts, Returning failed asylum applicants thirty-fourth report of 2005-06, HC 620, 14 March 2006, Committee of Public Accounts, Immigration: the Points Based System - Work Routes, thirty-fourth report of 2010-12, HC 913, 17 May 2011 Back

17   Qq 177-178 Back

18   Written evidence from the Home Office to PAC, 12 September 2014, p1 Back

19   Qq 158-161 Back

20   Qq 161-166 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 29 October 2014