Home Office struggles to get a handle on visa backlog

The Home Office has managed to absorb the former UK Border Agency back into the Department without a significant fall in performance, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report published today.

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By Samera Owusu Tutu

22 Jul 2014

However, as at March 2014, UK Visas and Immigration had around 301,000 open immigration cases. While the first quarter of this year saw 94% of immigration applications decided within service standards, there were still backlogs including over 25,000 claims for asylum.

These findings come one year after the UK Border Agency was brought back into the department under the two new directorates of UK Visa and Immigration, and Immigration Enforcement.

To compound matters, caseworkers in the department are still using legacy IT systems after the flagship Immigration Casework (ICW) programme, which was supposed to replace them, was closed in August 2013 due to poor delivery.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today that though significant changes have been made since the agency was broken up, the NAO “would have expected greater progress by now in tackling the problems we identified in 2012 in areas such as specific backlogs and IT”.

Staff from both directorates told the NAO that some data is being transferred manually from paper to IT systems, allowing room for errors.

In response to the report, Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, added that the fact data is still inconsistent and of poor quality is frustrating, and complained that the department failed to record the minimum amount of information required to make a decision for a third of asylum claims. 

The ICW set the department back £347 million, and an additional £209 million will need to be spent on the new Immigration Platform Technologies programme, which rolls out fully in 2017 – despite support contracts for vital legacy systems expiring in 2016.

Hodge stated: “Given its poor track record, I have little confidence that the further £209 million it is spending on another IT system will be money well spent.”

Recommendations made by the NAO in the report include the department developing its plans for an end-to-end system for immigration and borders; assessing whether its incremental, agile approach to IT will provide the system transformation needed to achieve high-performance operations; and building on the NAO’s 2013 recommendation to Border Force to prioritise workforce modernisation and develop a cross-directorate plan.

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