Skip to main content

Asylum Applications Backlog

Volume 832: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the growing backlog of asylum applications and to ensure new cases are processed in an efficient manner.

We committed to increase our headcount to 2,500 decision-makers. As of 1 September, we have met that commitment. We have taken immediate action to speed up asylum processing while maintaining the integrity of the system. The streamlined asylum process plays an important role in achieving that. We are on track to clear the legacy asylum backlog by the end of 2023. It is presently down by more than 30,000 cases.

I thank the Minister, but the asylum backlog had risen to a high of more than 175,000 waiting for an initial decision as of the end of June, up 44% from last year. There was a service standard that set a target of 98% of straightforward cases receiving an initial decision within six months. That was withdrawn in 2019. Can the Minister confirm that this Government are still committed to the efficient processing of asylum claims? If so, when will a new service standard be put in place?

I can reassure the noble Earl that we are very much committed to the efficient dispatch of the consideration of asylum claims. There were 78,768 asylum applications in the year ending June 2023, which is higher than at any time since the European migration crisis. The asylum backlog is high because there are so many applications. We entirely appreciate the point the noble Earl makes—that we need efficient dispatch of these applications—and that is why we have made the reforms and the headway with the backlog that we have.

While the application numbers should, of course, reduce—it is very important for this to be an initiative by the Government —do we not also have to look at the removals of those who fail to meet the criteria under the 1951 convention? Is my noble friend satisfied that we have discussed enough with the countries of origin—I emphasise “origin”—of these applicants that they will take back those who fail to meet those criteria, particularly countries of origin that claim to be free, democratic respecters of human rights?

My noble friend is entirely right that one of the keys to the asylum process is to remove those whose asylum applications are refused, but in some cases some countries are difficult about taking back their citizens. The Government take very seriously their obligations to seek to negotiate an improvement in those situations. An example of that being very successfully achieved was in relation to the Albanian cohort. As the House will hear later during the Statement repeat, we have successfully removed many Albanians to Albania under that agreement.

My Lords, when are the Government going to apologise for having created this backlog by closing all the safe and secure routes, except for a few nationalities? When will the Government apologise for making asylum seekers and refugees, who have experienced the most horrendous conditions, into some sort of right-wing trope and hate figures?

I do not recognise any of the items raised by the noble Baroness. I can reassure her that there will be no such apologies.

My Lords, from my time as Minister for Immigration, I have some experience of the challenges of asylum casework. Indeed, when I was the Minister we had a backlog and the problem of many countries not taking back their own citizens, but they were nothing like this scale. The backlog has increased by 44% over the last year. I recently heard a Home Office explanation for this. Apparently, it is

“due to more cases entering the asylum system than receiving initial decisions”.

Where I come from, in the west of Scotland, explanations of that nature are responded to with the words, “You don’t say?”. This is a description, not an explanation, of failures. My experience in government was that, when there were failures, the best way to deal with them was to change methodologies. Can the Minister honestly tell us whether, in his review of how this came about, the Home Office has identified any failures on its part that have caused this backlog?

I am afraid the Government do not accept any lessons in handling the asylum backlog from the Labour Party, which resolved the issues in relation to its own asylum backlog by granting an asylum amnesty. That is not something we propose to do. The Government have addressed the problem by taking concrete steps, including the streamlined asylum processing model. This concentrates facilities on applicants from high-grant countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Yemen and, latterly, Sudan. That is on the basis of the high grant rate. Various other steps have been taken to make the system more efficient. That is why we have had a drop in the number of applicants.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that up to a third of the funds intended for overseas development assistance are being spent on the accommodation of asylum seekers, who are unable to work? Does he agree that reducing the backlog of asylum seekers would free up money to spend on overseas development, which is such an important part of Britain’s overseas reputation?

I rather agree with the noble Lord. The Government’s policy is to reduce expenditure on hotels, which will free up more government money to be spent on overseas aid. I can reassure the noble Lord, the House having passed the Illegal Migration Act, that one of its consequences is that those in the cohort covered by Section 2 will not be able to make asylum claims. As a result, they will not be in the asylum backlog.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that since the Prime Minister pledged to clear the pre-June 2022 asylum backlog the Government are now withdrawing many more claims, meaning that they no longer count? Can he say how many such claims have been withdrawn and whether a Home Office official was right when reported in the press as saying:

“This is done to basically bring the backlog down”—

in other words, changing the way the Government count numbers to give them the result they want?

No is the short answer. The Home Office is committed to ensuring that the asylum system is not open to abuse. By promptly withdrawing asylum claims from non-compliant individuals, we are ensuring that decision-making resources are concentrated on those who genuinely wish to continue with their asylum claims within the UK. Asylum seekers can withdraw their claim, should they no longer wish to claim asylum in the UK, and may do so for a variety of reasons, including that they want to leave the UK or have permission to stay on another basis. Asylum claims may also be withdrawn where the individual fails to comply with the asylum process or absconds before a decision is made on their claim.

Following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, will the Minister confirm that, as reported in today’s press, it will no longer be possible to charge to the aid programme the costs of asylum seekers whose claims are deemed inadmissible under the Illegal Migration Act?

I have not seen the article to which the noble Lord refers. I will of course look at it and reply to him in due course.

Returning to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, how long does the Home Office consider a reasonable length of time for an asylum seeker to provide reasons and evidence as to why their asylum request should be reinstated after receiving a decision and the application is withdrawn? Will the Government publish statistics on the number of applicants reinstated?

The GOV.UK website contains detailed guidance on circumstances in which a claim will be withdrawn or deemed withdrawn, including a timescale. I do not believe, although I do not have the facts before me, that there is a concrete deadline after which a claim may not be restored, but I will check that and revert to the right reverend Prelate in relation to it.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. One of the consequences of the Government’s rush to beat the backlog is that those who have the right to remain are given as little as seven days, or sometimes even less, to leave their asylum seeker accommodation—seven days to find a home and a job and, most crucially, to put in a successful application for universal credit. Do the Government believe that making people homeless and passing the buck to local authorities and the voluntary sector, while that may solve the Government’s problem, places cash-strapped councils in an impossible position?

Clearly, as the noble Lord knows, it is a priority for the Government to reduce and eliminate the use of hotels. If people have successfully claimed asylum, the position is that they should no longer reside in Home Office accommodation and that they become the responsibility of the local authority. This is a well-known procedure and has been in place for a long time. I do not believe that there is any reason why that should not be the case.