Home Office replacement for 'defective' IT system delayed again

Concerns raised that government has not learned lessons from Windrush scandal
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By Tevye Markson

13 Jun 2024

Work to improve IT systems and data at the Home Office to help avoid another Windrush scandal is now four years behind schedule.

The latest delay to the programme to transition from a “defective” legacy case-management IT system for immigration data to a new system – which is already having its own issues – is due to the department prioritising implementation of the Illegal Migration Act, it has said.

In a report on the Windrush scandal, published in March 2019, the Public Accounts Committee warned that the Home Office was “making life-changing decisions on people’s rights, based on incorrect data from systems that are not fit for purpose”.

It recommended that, in the design and rollout of its new case-management system for migrants, Atlas, the Home Office should prioritise improving the quality of its data and set out its plans for “data cleansing, migration of the existing case files and controls around the input of new data”.

In its response to PAC in June 2019, the Home Office agreed and said it would aim to implement the recommendations by March 2020.

It has since delayed this commitment seven times. Its latest update states that the migration of cases from the old system, CID, to Atlas is expected to be completed next month, followed by the decommissioning of the CID in October.

The Home Office said it had pushed back the target implementation date for decommissioning the CID to October 2024 “to prioritise the technical delivery for the Illegal Migration Act”.

“The delivery of government priorities, such as IMA, Brexit, Ukraine Visa scheme, ETAs [the visa-free Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme] and eVisas means that resources, both in the development teams and in the test pipeline, need to be prioritised on to this work, which has resulted in the date for CID decommissioning being moved back,” it added.

The Home Office has used a series of Treasury minutes responding to PAC recommendation on Windrush to give updates on its IT transition. It first delayed the programme by a year to March 2021 due to Covid, before moving it back to December 2021 for the same reason. It was then postponed to October 2022 due to technical issues, which meant the legacy system and the new system had to be run side-by-side.

The transition was then delayed to April 2023 due to "work for Afghan resettlement, British national overseas changes and Ukraine refugee visas", and then to September 2023 "to align with the date for decommissioning the legacy Case Information Database" before the latest delay.

The Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London, a charity that supports vulnerable migrants, slammed the latest delay, saying: “Clearly, all the government apologies following the Windrush scandal and commitments to learn and improve were for show only.

“Righting the wrongs of that scandal and preventing a repeat are not and likely never were a priority for this government. Instead, time, energy and resources have been wasted on trying to implement the Illegal Migration Act, which breaches international law by banning refugees from claiming asylum in furtherance of the government’s cruel and unworkable Rwanda scheme.”

A spokesperson for the charity added that the decision to prioritise the legislation had happened while Windrush victims were struggling to secure compensation. They said the latest delay demonstrated “how little the government has prioritised the IT changes to improve and learn from Windrush”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Windrush Compensation Scheme claims are decided on a separate bespoke caseworking system, which is not impacted by the decommissioning of CID nor the creation of new ATLAS casework system.”

‘Atlas has served to slow things down’

Amid the continued delays to the IT switchover, the independent immigration watchdog has raised a number issues with the Home Office’s IT systems.

Concerns were raised in multiple reports published after the departure of David Neal from his role as independent chief inspector of borders and immigration in February.

Neal warned in one report on the asylum casework backlog that: “Efforts have been hampered by a lack of progress in digitising processes and by clunky IT systems.”

“Rather than assisting decision making, the main system in use, Atlas, has served to slow things down,” he added.

The then-watchdog found newly recognised refugees were unable to find housing or employment because Atlas delayed issuing their biometric residence permits, while there were “missing interview records, record duplications, and discrepancies” between Atlas and other systems.

Another ICIBI report found that issues with the Atlas system had delayed Afghan resettlement because some sponsors “could not be traced” on the system, which meant staff had to phone people asking for their immigration status.

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