Cleverly: Asylum claims build-up is 'not a backlog' and there's no target to tackle it

Home secretary tells MPs 94,000-strong caseload is a "queue"
James Cleverly at the committee session. Photo:

By Tevye Markson

01 Feb 2024

The current build-up of asylum cases is a “queue” not a “backlog” and the Home Office will not set targets for clearing it, home secretary James Cleverly has told MPs.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak last year tasked the Home Office with clearing the “legacy” backlog of 91,000 asylum claims by the end of 2023. He said in January that the government had achieved this, making decisions on all of the pre-June 2022 claims except for around 4,500 “complex cases”.

But Sunak has set no such target for the so-called “flow backlog” backlog, cases that have built up since June 2022, which currently stands at 94,062.

At a session yesterday, Home Affairs Select Committee chair Dame Diana Johnson asked Cleverly about the government's plans for clearing the non-legacy "backlog" but was interrupted by the home secretary who said the build-up is "not a backlog".

“It’s the case load…it’s a queue.” he said.

Cleverly added: “There are a number of cases that we working through. At any given time someone who has arrived will be added to the caseload. By your definition, if someone arrived yesterday, that would be a backlog. And I don't agree with that as a definition. Obviously the committee is at liberty to use whatever descriptor you wish to use – but that is our caseload that we are working through.”

Johnson then asked if there is a specific target for clearing the "queue...backlog...caseload" and if there is a timeline for returning to the standard of deciding on most straightforward asylum claims within six months. The Home Office abandoned the six-month target in 2019.

Cleverly said he wants to clear the build-up “as soon as possible”, but it would be “impossible” to give a date. He also pointed to the expansion of the numbers of officials working on asylum cases and said the system is now “faster”.

The committee also published a letter from Home Office ministers yesterday in response to a written question from MPs asking when the Home Office anticipates it will have processed the outstanding legacy claims.  

Tom Pursglove, minister for legal migration and the border, and Michael Tomlinson, minister for countering illegal migration, said in the letter that it is not possible to give an accurate answer” because “some cases are more complex than others and require further investigation or matters that are outside of our control to be resolved”.

Explaining why it is not possible to give a firm date, they said: “For example, some claimants have pending prosecutions which, if convicted, could lead to their asylum claim being refused and deportation action taken. The government’s view is that it is preferable not to consider asylum claims (and leave to remain) until a criminal prosecution case is completed. The timetable for action in this scenario is dependent on the police or the courts, whose timings are rightly operationally independent of ministers.”

The ministers said the Home Office is continuing to make decisions on the remaining legacy claims and “will resolve these cases as soon as possible once the reason we cannot progress their claim is lifted”.

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