Immigration watchdog sets out plans – and reveals his office has been understaffed for two years

Plans for 2020-21 published as chief inspector says inspections will be balanced with "not over-burdening the Home Office" at an "extremely challenging time"

Photo: David Pearson

The EU settlement scheme, asylum casework and treatment of adults at risk in detention will be among the areas scrutinised by the UK’s immigration watchdog in the coming months.

The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Bolt, has today set out his plans to scrutinise the work of the Home Office and its agencies, following the announcement that his term in the role has been extended to October.

Bolt will lead five new inspections before stepping down, he said. They will look at asylum casework, the settled-status scheme, adults at risk in detention; UK Visas and Immigration’s front-end services; and e-gates.


A further "one or two" reinspections will be added to the list at a later date, he said.

Bolt said he would begin all of the new inspections, but it would likely fall to his successor to complete some of them.

"The updated plan for the first half of 2020-21 is informed by the findings and recommendations from previous inspections. It also reflects my discussions with ministers, officials, and external stakeholders," Bolt said.

Bolt said the inspection plan aimed to "balance maintaining ICIBI as a functioning inspectorate with not over-burdening the Home Office and others at what is an extremely challenging time for everyone".

"ICIBI and the Home Office will keep the latter’s capacity to assist with particular inspections under review, along with inspection timescales. In the present circumstances, we need to feel our way forward in terms of what is achievable, rather than make plans and commitments that have to be regularly revised," he said.

He said it would not be possible for inspectors to carry out their usual work until measures to contain the spread of coronavirus were lifted. In the meantime, he said staff would make greater use of video conferecing, desk-based research and published material like guidance, case records and data.

However, the plan also takes into account the inspectorate's capacity, as it will be fully staffed for the first time in two years as of next month. "Throughout 2019-20, ICIBI operated with roughly half the number of inspectors it should have," Bolt said. A successful recruitment campaign means that by the second half of this year, "ICIBI should be in a good position to press ahead with a full programme of inspections," he said.

The new topics have been added to the existing portfolio of inspections that were begun last fiscal year. The inspectorate is in the process of producing seven reports, to be published this year, on topics including resettlement schemes for vulnerable refugees and the Home Office’s investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of modern slavery.

Bolt also said he had not included any topics related to the Windrush scandal, as the Home Office is due to give its formal response to Wendy Williams's lessons-learned review later this year. "At [that] stage my successor will wish to consider what this means for the ICIBI’s workplan for the remainder of 2020-21 and beyond," he said.

Alongside the plans, Bolt published a list of six reports that have been submitted to the home secretary but have yet to be published. Two were submitted in January, and two in July last year. The Home Office’s own target is to publish reports within eight weeks of receiving them, but CSW revealed earlier this year that the department had failed to publish any of the 14 reports Bolt submitted in 2019 within that timeframe.

Bolt was due to step down from his five-year role in May. An appointment process for his successor will begin “in due course”, the Home Office has said.

Announcing the extension earlier this month, home secretary Patel said: “This appointment will continue to constructively challenge and scrutinise the department’s immigration functions so that they are as effective as they can be.”

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