22 March 2023: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration: The Chief Inspector’s annual report for the business year 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022 has been laid in Parliament.
Publishing his annual report, David Neal said:
Commenting on the publication of his annual report for 2021-22, David Neal said:
The UK Borders Act 2007 requires the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration to make a report to the Home Secretary each year on the performance of immigration, asylum, nationality, and customs functions. This annual report provides a valuable opportunity for me to reflect on the findings of my inspections and to draw out wider themes and issues.
In my annual report for 2021-22, I highlighted three areas of particular concern. First, I comment on the need for the Home Office to develop greater resilience in the face of ‘crisis’ so that the extent to which unforeseen challenges disrupt the department’s routine operations is minimised. Secondly, I note that several of my inspections pointed to a need for the Home Office to adopt a greater focus on vulnerability, particularly when its safeguarding responsibilities are in tension with its immigration control objectives. Finally, I point to the perennial problem of the poor quality of the data on which the Home Office relies to carry out its borders and immigration functions, an issue that arises in almost every ICIBI inspection.
The annual report notes that, as in years past, the Home Office has accepted, in whole or in part, the vast majority of ICIBI recommendations, with 63% fully accepted and 29% partially accepted, but the department’s capacity for tracking progress on recommendations remains poor, and it is clear that many accepted recommendations have not been implemented. As examples, the annual report cited the lack of a published service standard for asylum decisions, months after the Home Office had accepted a recommendation to reintroduce one “as a matter of urgency”, and the lack of “effective consultation methods with local authorities … prior to the establishment of contingency asylum accommodation”, even after the department had committed to develop such methods. Months after I pointed to these examples, I am frustrated that there is still no published service standard for asylum decisions, and I am sure that many local authorities would agree that the Home Office’s approach to engagement with them on the placement of asylum accommodation sites still requires improvement.
I am pleased that my 2021-22 annual report has now been published, albeit more than eight months after its submission to the Home Secretary and with just days to spare before the end of current business year. Having expressed disappointment in the report at the Home Office’s failure to lay my inspection reports in Parliament within agreed timescales, I find it frustrating that it has taken a particularly long time for this document to be made available to parliamentarians and the wider public.
The ICIBI Annual Report for 2021-22 was sent to the Home Secretary on 8 July 2022.
Inspection findings: Overview [Extracts]
Inspections also revealed a need for greater attention to vulnerability, including steps to mitigate the tension between safeguarding responsibilities and the department’s focus on immigration control. A number of inspections have highlighted areas in which the Home Office could do more to identify, safeguard and meet the needs of the vulnerable people with which it comes in contact. These issues arise in a variety of contexts – inspectors have examined, for example, whether roving Border Force officers in airports are sufficiently able to detect potentially vulnerable customers passing through eGates, whether front-end services for visa applicants are sufficiently accessible to vulnerable people and whether outreach efforts are succeeding in ensuring that vulnerable people eligible for status through the EU Settlement Scheme are able to secure their rights.
The challenge for the department is most acute when safeguarding duties are seen to be in tension with immigration control objectives, as can be the case when the Home Office seeks to detain a vulnerable person for the purpose of removal. One of the department’s ‘priority outcomes’, as specified in its delivery plan is to “tackle illegal migration, remove those with no right to be here and protect the vulnerable”, but in practice the third of those objectives can be to some extent at odds with the first two. The Home Office has made a sincere commitment to protecting vulnerable people in detention, ICIBI’s second annual inspection of the ‘Adults at Risk’ policy found that the policy is to some extent undercut by a culture of suspicion towards many of those seeking access to the safeguards that it offers.