Judith, Policy Officer at the Refugee Council, comments on the findings of the Independent Chief Inspector of UKBA’s report published today on the backlog of asylum cases:
Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House describes a long running case costing thousands of pounds and preventing the potential beneficiaries from building a future while they wait, seemingly endlessly, for a decision from on high.
Those following the progress of the UK government to clear the backlog of asylum cases first identified in July 2006 may identify similarities with the Bleak House case. The legacy programme, for most of its life referred to as the ‘Case Resolution Exercise’, was meant to be completed by July 2011; indeed in March 2011 the government announced that it was just about complete. Four months later a significant policy change was announced, resulting in the ironic situation that those who had waited the longest for a resolution of their asylum claim received the much less favourable temporary leave, rather than the indefinite leave granted to those cases concluded in the first five years of the programme.
The ironies do not end there. Recent reasons given for worsening delays included the attention of caseworkers being diverted to correspondence and complaints from legal representatives and MPs on behalf of people in the backlog. The subject of this correspondence – delays. These applicants, having been told to wait for a decision, usually by means of a standard letter, were simply enquiring on the progress of their case. Many of these people were later referred to as having ‘absconded’ or described as ‘non compliant’, as the Border Agency had done all its checks and concluded that it had lost touch with the applicant so could not progress the claim further. In fact these individuals were seeking advice from legal reps, refugee support agencies and community organisations; none of whom were getting any joy in hearing back from the Agency either. The Chief Inspector of UKBA sheds some light on this by revealing that his team came across 150 boxes of unopened correspondence at the time of his inspection earlier this year.
The Chief Inspector describes the UK Border Agency’s ‘poor handling of complaints and ineffective responses’ and concludes that there was a ‘failure to review these cases in accordance with the principles of good administration’. The inspection reveals that in many cases the original birth, marriage and death certificates were held on people’s files for years. Those who were granted leave were often not sent documents informing them of this, so that they were still unable to work or access state benefits.
Why does this really matter? It matters because these are people who had been told their case was in the backlog and that it would be concluded; either they would be removed from the UK or receive a grant of Indefinite Leave to Remain. People at all stages of the process are represented in the cohort of unconcluded cases and each has a different personal experience. For some, not only were they living with the day to day uncertainty of what would happen and when. They were living in conditions that would have shocked Charles Dickens. We will continue to press for the meaningful conclusion of this exercise and hope that the government has learnt its lesson this time.