Border Agency long way from target of removals, says watchdog
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
From The Times
February 9, 2010
The border agency is a very long way from removing failed asylum seekers from the country promptly, according to a highly critical watchdog report published today.
The report discloses that two further immigration backlogs built up as the organisation struggled to deal with hundreds of thousand of old asylum cases and the deportation of foreign prisoners.
Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, is scathing about the poor standard of service provided to some migrants by the agency which in 2006 was described by the Home Secretary at the time as not fit for purpose.
Unsuccessful asylum applicants should promptly leave the country or be removed as soon as practicable, Ms Abraham said. She added: In our experience the agency are a very long way from achieving this.
Ms Abraham found many cases where the agency failed to meet the most basic standards of administration including keeping customers informed, meeting promised standards of service and dealing with the public helpfully.
She said: Indeed there are numerous examples where the agency havehas been unable to perform at even a basic level of administration, such as reading and replying to letters, keeping proper records, keeping case files together and in the proper place, and notifying the applicant of their decision.
Many of those suffering the worst service are migrants in two new backlogs that emerged as the agency diverted staff to deal with 440,000 old asylum cases and tackle the deportation of foreign national prisoners who had served their sentences.
Backlogs of 77,000 applications for residence from European nationals and 33,000 cases of people seeking leave to remain in the country built up.
Ms Abraham said that she had found numerous instances when the agency failed to reply to letters or deal with complaints from applicants or even give migrants an indication of when they would receive a decision.
In the past three years, the ombudsman received more than 1,300 complaints from from MPs about the work of the agency and of those she investigated 97 per cent were upheld.
One man received a refund of 755 in fees and 2,500 compensation for severe distress and inconvenience caused by failings in handling his case.
The man, known only as Mr P, was a Jamaican who was given indefinite leave to remain in 1990. It took the agency 3 years to provide a stamp confirming his right to stay for his new 2004 passport.
During that time, Mr P was threatened with deportation and missed funerals in Jamaica because he was afraid he would not be able to re-enter Britain, the report said.
Ms Abraham said that the agency had made significant progress in recent years towards clearing backlogs but she said, given the scale of its problems, there could be no short term fixes.
She said that the agency still had a long way to go to meet principles of good administration and dealing with complaints.
Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, said: We take the ombudsmans recommendations seriously and welcome the assessment that our complaints systems are improving.
She said that the agency, which has a budget of 2 billion a year and 24,500 staff, was continuing to make progress in dealing with the legacy backlog of 450,000 older asylum cases and had already concluded more than 235,000 cases.
I am confident we are on course to conclude these cases by the summer of 2011.
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