The Home Office paid out more than £10m in compensation payments last year, mostly to people it had wrongly detained, it has emerged.
The department was forced to compensate 312 people last year that it had wrongfully detained – 100 more than in 2017-18, according to its annual report. Total compensation for wrongful detention came to £8.2m – up from 5.1m more than the previous year.
And it paid out a further £2m in other compensation payments, up from £1.3m the previous year. The number of individual cases more than quadrupled in the space of a year – from 941 in 2017-18 to 4,269 in 2018-19, meaning that the average sum paid in each case was considerably lower in 2018-19.
Including these compensation payouts, the Home Office made £36.4m in so-called “special payments” last year – those that parliament could not have anticipated when passing legislation or approving departmental budget estimates.
The total was slightly less than the previous year’s £37.4m, and also included a £1.1m settlement in a discrimination case settled in March after a seven-year legal battle, and £1.5m related to a human rights case brought against the department.
The department also lost £2.5m in so-called fruitless payments last year – around the same as the previous year. Cancelled flights accounted for £2m of that figure, including flights that had been scheduled to deport people whose applications for asylum had been denied – either because asylum seekers had been granted the right to appeal or for other reasons.
A further fruitless payment worth £400,000 was chalked up to the cancellation of an unnamed secure network service.
The report also revealed a spike in the department’s reporting of data breaches last year. The Home Office reported 35 data breaches to the Information Commissioner’s Office, up from two the previous year.
A further 1,895 data breaches were recorded by the department’s data controller but not deemed major enough to warrant reporting to ICO. Sixty-four such breaches were recorded the previous year.
The report attributes the sharp increase in reporting to “greater awareness and vigilance amongst staff” since the introduction of GDPR in May 2018. Guidance published post-GDPR and a revised reporting process “has raised awareness across the Home Office regarding the need to escalate such incidents”, it says.
However, the report does reveal concern about the Home Office’s compliance with data protection regulations. A section on risks to the department’s work stresses that “it is essential that we manage those assets properly and do not lose the public's trust and confidence, in particular by being non-compliant with data protection legislation”.
It addresses in particular a three-day period in early April in which three separate data breaches occurred. On 7 April, when sending an email to 240 EU settlement scheme applicants, an official failed to use the BCC function to hide recipients’ email addresses from each other. The following day, a similar error happened in five batches of emails to people who had contacted the Home Office about its Windrush compensation scheme.
In a third incident on 9 April, which has been less well publicised, an administrative error by a contractor meant the email addresses belonging to 168 users of the General Aviation Report system – a Border Force system used by pilots and flight handlers to register who and what is being carried on non-scheduled flights – were shared.
The department said it had introduced an unspecified “technical solution” on 5 March to minimise risk of similar breaches happening in future.
Digital and Brexit planning push temp staff costs up
Spending by the department and its arm’s-length bodies on consultancy services and temporary staff meanwhile rose by more than a quarter in the space of a year, totalling £120.1m in 2018-19.
Those costs included £87m in temporary staff costs in the central department, £33.7m of which was to pay for extra agency staff in UK Visas and Immigration, the passport office and immigration enforcement. “Agency staff have been retained primarily as a flexible resource to deal with backlogs in migrant casework, passport application/examination, asylum applications and in preparation for exiting the EU,” the report says.
The remaining temporary staff costs included pay for specialist contractors and interim managers who worked on the department’s transformation plans, delivery of its digital strategy and Brexit preparations.
Spending on consultancy services rose sharply from £12.7m in 2017-18 to £23.4m last year. Most of that spending was by the core department, while the figures show the trouble Disclosure and Barring Service alone spent £1.2m on consultants. The College of Policing spent £1.3m on consultants in the same year.