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Rishi Sunak Will Fail Key Pledges on Migrants, National Audit Office Reveals

The official watchdog says both the Prime Minister’s promises – to reduce asylum seekers backlog and stop housing them in hotels – will not be met

A child asylum seeker in a reception centre in Yorkshire. Photo: John Birdsall/Alamy

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Rishi Sunak’s pledge to Parliament last December to “abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions” by the end of 2023 will not be met, the National Audit Office says in a report published today.

While the Home Office has increased the processing of applicants from 690 in July 2022 to 1,310 a week in April 202, the NAO estimates it will need to make an average of 2,200 decisions per week from May 2023 to clear legacy claims by December 2023. So far the figure of unprocessed claims has fallen from over 100,000 to 77,000.

Given the shortage of trained staff to interview applicants, the NAO can’t see the Home Office being able to do this. By April 2023, only about 50% of its 1,270 full-time equivalent caseworkers were deciding claims, with around 140 fully trained and working independently.

The turnover of people interviewing applicants is running at 25 per cent – down from double that figure earlier after the Home Office gave extra cash to staff so they would not leave.

The reduction so far has only been made possible by a decision not to interview people making new claims for asylum and the NAO estimate that even if the backlog was completely cleared, officials will face a new backlog of 84,000 fresh applicants by December this year.

The report casts doubt on claims by Suella Braverman, the home secretary, to MPs at a Commons committee hearing yesterday that processing was progressing well though she admitted it was unlikely to reach zero. She would have known that a highly critical NAO report was on the way as an embargoed copy had already been sent to the Home Office.

A Home Office spokesperson told Byline Times: “The Government is working non-stop to reduce the asylum backlog and deliver cheaper, more orderly alternatives to hotel accommodation.

 “As the NAO acknowledges, we have already doubled the number of caseworkers and cut the legacy backlog by 20%, but we know more must be done to bring the asylum system back into balance. The Illegal Migration Bill will stop the boats by detaining those who come to the UK illegally, and swiftly returning them to their home country or a safe third country.”

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Hotel Problems

Rishi Sunak’s other pledge to end accommodating asylum seekers in hotels is not working either.

The Home Office had a target of moving 500 people a week from hotels into local council accommodation and cut the target to 350 when it appeared not to be working. The latest figures in the NAO report reveal that only 48 people are being rehoused every week as councils are reluctant to house them as they say the money the Home Office has offered them is not enough. This is why the government is seeking to find disused military camps and barges to accommodate them.

The NAO reveals that the Home Office will face a new problem of a huge rise in appeals following the effort to clear the backlog. The HM Courts and Tribunal Service is expecting about 75,000 to appeal and have not got enough judges to hear the cases. It now wants to recruit and train new judges but this will take another 18 months before they can hear any cases.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “The Programme is not on track to achieve the expected benefits. The changes the Home Office plans to implement through the Programme are necessary, but not on their own sufficient, to address the pressures in the asylum system. To achieve value for money, the Home Office needs to better co-ordinate and manage the impacts of these changes, otherwise, the department risks moving backlogs and cost pressures to other parts of the system – including local authorities – rather than resolving them.”

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