I am providing an update on progress made following my statement to the House on 25 October on the Home Office’s use of DNA evidence in immigration applications.
I would like to reiterate that no one should have faced a demand to supply DNA evidence and no one should have been penalised for not providing it. I have apologised to those affected by this practice and committed to get to the bottom of what has gone on in relation to DNA evidence.
On 8 November the Home Office published new overarching policy guidance on the use of DNA evidence in the whole of the borders, immigration and citizenship system on gov.uk. This guidance makes clear that the Home Office cannot mandate individuals to provide DNA evidence, or draw any negative inferences from non-provision. However, it also makes clear that individuals can volunteer such evidence to demonstrate a biological relationship. It will help to ensure there is a consistent approach across the whole BICS system and it will be used in parallel with guidance on individual routes and schemes (e.g. Gurkhas).
The Home Office is also arranging bespoke training sessions with frontline staff to ensure that operational practice aligns with the overarching policy position on the use of DNA evidence. The published guidance related to Gurkhas has been corrected and reissued.
On 24 October I established a taskforce so that anyone who feels that their case may have been influenced in any way by an inappropriate demand for DNA testing, can receive advice and support. Details of how to contact the taskforce were sent to hon. Members and publicised on Home Office social media channels as well as on gov.uk. As of 14 November, the telephone helpline had received a total of 25 calls. Seventeen of these calls have been referred to the taskforce and are being actively reviewed.
We will arrange reimbursement for individuals who contact us using the helpline, if the individual has suffered financial loss because the Home Office required DNA evidence from them when we should not have.
Likewise we will proactively contact individuals who are known to have been required to provide DNA evidence and did so, to arrange reimbursement.
The vast majority of outstanding Operation Fugal cases I referred to in my statement have now been concluded and Home Office officials are continuing to work to conclude any remaining cases as soon as possible.
Some cases will take longer to conclude where we have requested further information to help us make a decision. There are a number of cases we are currently unable to conclude where there are outstanding criminal proceedings, although to date there have been no criminal charges brought against any individuals as a result of Operation Fugal.
I can now confirm that I have appointed Darra Singh OBE to conduct the independent assessment on the Home Office’s approach to establishing the numbers involved, the operational response, the policy response and the extent to which follow-up training and communications have addressed the issue. Darra brings significant experience, skills and credibility to this task.
I stated that I will review more broadly our structures and processes to ensure that they deliver a system in a way that is fair and humane. I am considering what form that review will take and I will provide an update to the House in due course.