Home Office plan to cut asylum backlog is putting vulnerable people 'at risk', MPs warn

Vulnerable people are being put at risk by the Home Office under its plans to clear the asylum backlog, MPs have warned.

The department's policy of "maximising the use of hotels" by making more people who are awaiting a decision share rooms "has not been thought through" and could have "serious consequences", parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said in a damning report.

The committee also said a "huge challenge" remains for the Home Office to clear the backlog in the asylum system and that its efforts to do so risked creating new backlogs in the courts.

Rishi Sunak has promised to clear the backlog of older "legacy" asylum cases - relating to applications lodged before June 2022 - by the end of this year.

As of the end of June this year, there were 67,870 legacy asylum cases awaiting a decision.

Earlier this week immigration minister Robert Jenrick also confirmed that asylum seekers would be moved out of 50 hotels by the end of January.

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The PAC report said the Home Office's own analysis has suggested that even if the legacy backlog is cleared by the end of the year as planned, there will still be another backlog of around 84,000 new asylum claims, or those made after June 2022.

The committee criticised the department's method to increase the number of asylum decisions it makes - and so reduce the backlog - saying it relied on "introducing poorly designed questionnaires and assuming claims are withdrawn".

"The Home Office does not understand the full implications of its programme on the wider asylum system," the MPs said.

"Its incomplete and unrealistic business case ignores the impact of a rapid clearing of the asylum backlog on Immigration Enforcement and the courts, and risks simply transferring backlogs to elsewhere in the system.

"The focus on streamlining decision-making may also inadvertently lead to more flawed decisions, or the withdrawal of genuine asylum claims."

It singled out the decision to make some asylum seekers share hotel rooms as a particular cause for concern, saying: "This plan - making potentially vulnerable people share rooms with someone they may never have met - has not been thought through and has no adequate safeguards.

"The Home Office struggled to explain to the PAC how people would be assessed for suitability for room-sharing, or how past trauma or risk would be considered.

"Implementing this plan in its current form could have serious consequences."

The report - which was completed before Mr Jenrick's announcement - also accused the department of lacking a "credible plan" to end the use of hotels to accommodate asylum seekers, saying that a target of finding 500 new beds every week had not been met, with there being just 48 new beds a week on average in the year to April.

PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier, said the "compromises being made by the Home Office to meet its commitments are alarming, and some could have grave consequences".

"Addressing the backlog at pace is of course desirable, but not if the government's approach is to do so by simply shifting pressures onto other parts of the system, by risking more flawed decisions or genuine asylum claims being withdrawn, or most seriously by putting the safety of vulnerable people at risk."

Labour's shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the Conservatives' "failed attempts to fix its broken asylum system are now up in lights: they have no 'credible plan for ending the use of hotels'".

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"This report shows no confidence in ministers meeting their own targets to clear the record asylum backlog, because they don't have a serious plan for delivery," Mr Kinnock added.

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A Home Office spokesperson said: "The government is working to end the unacceptable use of hotels by moving asylum seekers into alternative, cheaper accommodation and clearing the legacy backlog.

"We have taken immediate action to speed up asylum processing whilst maintaining the integrity of the system. This includes simplifying guidance, streamlining processes and introducing shorter, focused interviews.

"Between the end of November 2022 and the end of August 2023, the asylum backlog of legacy cases had fallen by over 35,000 cases and we are confident that with increased capacity and improved efficiency this will help deliver further significant output over the coming months."