The Home Office has this week admitted to having “systemic challenges” with record-keeping and coordination across the borders and immigration system following revelations it wrongly compelled some visa applicants to take DNA tests.
Eight months after it came to light that the Home Office had illegally rejected some visa applications because applicants had refused to provide a DNA sample, the department said flaws in its collection and recording of data had hindered its ability to identify all the people who had been affected.
The department's latest admissions come in response to an independent review conducted by former riots commission chair Darra Singh, the second probe prompted by the DNA-testing revelations, which was published earlier this week.
Although DNA evidence can legally be used to support an immigration application, for example to prove a family relationship, it cannot be a requirement. However, a review published in October found samples had been “improperly required” in some visa and permanent residence applications – and that it was “impossible to quantify” how many times this had happened.
The Home Office has so far identified 1,351 applicants or family units who had been wrongly told to supply DNA evidence, according to Singh's review. It found just over half of those people – 590 – supplied the evidence, and 339 paid for it.
But in its response, published alongside the review, the Home Office admitted its ability to collect and analyse data effectively – including records of who had been told to give DNA samples – had been hampered by poor coordination and outdated IT systems.
Singh, a partner at the consultancy EY and former civil servant who led a commission on the 2011 riots, said the Home Office had not done enough to identify all the people who may have been affected by demands for DNA evidence.
He said the department “should have assessed and utilised a greater range of information and applied a more appropriate degree of professional curiosity” to identify all the people affected. Among other things, the Home Office should have used better statistical methods to assess the scale of the problem, Singh said.
He also said his review had highlighted gaps in the Home Office’s record-keeping.
“A lack of rigour in the management information used, both from the Home Office IT systems and locally kept information, hindered the Home Office’s ability to account for this cohort. The review found additional people impacted, not identified by the department,” the report said.
In its response, the Home Office said the review had highlighted “systemic challenges with how work is coordinated across the borders and immigration system as well as the limitations imposed by a legacy IT system on effective data collection and analysis”.
The department said it had started to address these problems through a major plan, called the simplification and streamlining programme, to “provide a single source of truth for guidance, policy, and immigration rules, providing information that is consistent and accessible for both decision makers and the public”.
A replacement IT system, Atlas, which is being rolled out at the moment across the department, would help to improve record-keeping and data collection, it added.
The department also said it recognised it needed to build on its existing work to “bring its component parts into an aligned whole, reduce siloed working and increase collaborative working across operational and policy areas”.
The Home Office said it had already implemented many of Singh’s recommendations, including better staff training and stepping up its efforts to publicise a helpline set up to assist people affected by the scandal.
The report welcomed the speed at which the department had put a new policy and guidance in place for the use of DNA evidence in immigration applications. The policy was published in November, a month after reports of the errors came to light.
However, it said improvements were needed as outdated guidance was still being shared on local IT hubs and shared drives.
Home secretary Sajid Javid was forced to apologise when the scandal came to light in October last year, saying it was “unacceptable” that some people had been forced to take DNA tests.
He added: “I want to take this opportunity to apologise to those who have been affected by this practice. The law in this context is that the provision of DNA evidence should always be voluntary and never mandatory.”