The Home Office did not publish a single report by the independent watchdog responsible for scrutinising its work within its own eight-week target last year, it has emerged
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, submitted 14 reports to the Home Office in the 2019 calendar year detailing the findings of probes into various aspects of its policy, procedures and publications.
It has so far published eight and has yet to make six public. The department aims to lay reports it receives from the chief inspector before parliament within eight weeks of receiving them, per a 2014 commitment by then-home secretary Theresa May.
The eight-week timeframe is not a hard deadline. Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford reiterated last February that “wherever possible, the department will lay ICIBI reports before parliament within eight weeks of receipt, or as soon as possible thereafter”.
But the latest count reveals that delays have become the norm.
The six as-yet unpublished reports were all submitted to the department more than three months ago, and three are now six months old.
In the most severe case, the Home Office has yet to publish the inspectorate’s findings from its re-inspection of the department’s complaints handling procedure, which it received on 4 July – nearly 30 weeks ago.
Bolt has reviewed the complaints procedure every two years since summer 2015, when an inspection found gaps in record keeping and quality assurance and poor handling of minor complaints. At that time he made six recommendations, including a “fundamental review” of guidance on dealing with complaints and improvements to quality-assurance mechanisms.
A May 2017 follow-up inspection concluded only three of the eight recommendations could be considered closed. It found Border Force in particular had “a good deal more work to do to bring its complaints handling up to the required level of performance”.
Two reports submitted to the Home Office on 29 July – one on the department’s adults at risk detention policy and another on country information for Ethiopia and Jamaica – have also yet to be released.
The remaining unpublished reports examine visa casework onshoring, submitted on 23 September; the EU settlement scheme, on 30 September; and right of abode, on 23 October.
Of those reports the Home Office has made public, one came a day shy of the 8-week guide – concerning the EUSS – while another on Border Force operations at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports was not published for four and a half months.
In his 2017-18 annual report, Bolt said delays "inevitably raise questions about my independence and about the Home Office’s management of ‘bad news’", adding that "publication of several reports on the same day may affect the media coverage each receives and therefore how widely they are read".
He said he had urged the Home Office to act on his recommendations before reports were laid before parliament. "This happens in some cases, but the department has often moved more slowly than I had hoped it would," he said.
The following year, Bolt added: "Whatever the reasons, some of which I accept are beyond the Home Office’s control, the effect is to slow down the flow of reports."
This month the chief inspector submitted two reports to the Home Office on family reunification applications and administrative reviews. There is still time for the department to publish them within its self-imposed guidelines.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is important that full consideration is given to the recommendations made in ICIBI reports. In some circumstances, this will take longer than usual due to the complexity or importance of the recommendations.”