The Home Office has commissioned Darra Singh, a partner at the consultancy EY and former civil servant who led a commission on the 2011 riots, to assess how the department handled revelations it had wrongly compelled some visa applicants to undergo DNA testing.
Sajid Javid, the home secretary, was forced to apologise last month after a review concluded that the Home Office had illegally rejected some visa applications because applicants had refused to provide a DNA sample. Although DNA evidence can legally be used to support an immigration application, for example to prove a family relationship, it cannot be a requirement.
He said the Home Office had identified a number of cases where individuals had been told to provide DNA evidence as part of ‘Operation Fugal’, which was set up in April 2016 to look at suspected fraud in some family and human rights-related immigration cases. He also announced a Windrush-style task force to examine cases where individuals felt their visa application had been influenced by an inappropriate demand for a DNA test.
In a statement this week, Javid said he had appointed Singh to carry out an independent assessment of “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,” he said.
Singh, who is now UK and Ireland government and public sector lead for EY, served stints in government as second permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, chief executive of the London Borough of Ealing, and chair of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel that was set up to examine why the August 2011 riots took place. He was appointed to a public commission to tackle extremism and promote cohesion in Greater Manchester last year.
In his statement this week, Javid the Home Office had now concluded the “vast majority” of affected Operation Fugal cases, and that they were working to conclude the 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,” he said. Some cases could not yet be concluded because they included outstanding criminal proceedings, but added that no criminal charges have yet been brought as part of the operation.
A telephone helpline set up to deal with additional cases involving DNA evidence has so far received 25 calls, 17 of which have been referred to the taskforce and are now under review, he said.
He added that the Home Office would reimburse individuals who had suffered financial loss because the department told them to provide DNA evidence when it shouldn’t have done so.
“Likewise we will proactively contact individuals who are known to have been required to provide DNA evidence and did so, to arrange reimbursement,” he added.
In his statement, Javid reiterated that “no-one should have faced a demand to supply DNA evidence and no-one should have been penalised for not providing it”. He said he had apologised to those affected by this practice and committed to get to the bottom of what has gone on in relation to DNA evidence.
He said the Home Office had published revised policy guidance on the use of DNA evidence in the whole of the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System, which made it clear that the Home Office cannot require individuals to provide DNA evidence, or draw any negative inferences from their refusal to do so.
The department is also carrying out training for frontline staff to ensure they adhere to the department’s policy on the use of DNA evidence, he said.