The Home Office has confirmed that it has abandoned its target to process the majority of asylum applications in the UK within six months.
In a statement after reports the standard had been dropped, the department said that it had “moved away from the six-month service standard to concentrate on cases with acute vulnerability and those in receipt of the greatest level of support, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children”.
The aim to process 98% of straightforward asylum claims within six months was first set by the department in 2014. A November 2017 report by David Bolt, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, highlighted that the department’s data showed this has been achieved in every month since April 2014, with data for 2016-17 shows an average of almost 99%.
However, this was within the context of more cases being classed as ‘non-straightforward’, which is the Home Office definition for cases where factors outside of the department's control mean it is not possible to meet the six-month target and are therefore not included in the calculation of the customer service standard.
The Guardian today reported that the target had been dropped, with human rights lawyers expressing alarm that vulnerable asylum seekers could face additional delays.
Hannah Baynes, of Duncan Lewis solicitors, told the paper: “We very regularly see asylum seekers who wait over six months for an initial decision. In many cases, we have no option but to resort to issuing judicial review proceedings to challenge the delay in a decision being made in a client’s asylum claim.
“I am concerned about the impact on clients’ health if the Home Office is planning to abandon its current target of six months for initial decisions in asylum claims. Such a practice creates uncertainty and means that those seeking asylum in the UK are unable to move on with their lives.”
A Home Office spokesperson told the paper it was “committed to ensuring that asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay, to ensure that individuals who need protection are granted asylum as soon as possible and can start to integrate and rebuild their lives, including those granted at appeal”.
They added: “We have moved away from the six-month service standard to concentrate on cases with acute vulnerability and those in receipt of the greatest level of support, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
"Additionally, we will prioritise cases where an individual has already received a decision but a reconsideration is required. We are engaging stakeholders to help inform how we will prioritise decision-making in the future, which will result in a new service standard that will seek to address the concerns that have been raised with the current arrangements.”