Saturday, September 23, 2023

UK unlikely to clear asylum backlog this year, watchdog warns -Dlight News

According to the UK Public Spending watchdog, record delays in processing asylum applications have led to increased spending, which has cast doubt on the government’s ability to meet its promise to clear the backlog in 2023.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman settled the backlog of cases by the end of June last year to reset the asylum system, which now runs to 75,000. They are motivated by the need to cut the £6mn a day the government says it is spending on housing asylum seekers in hotels.

Braverman has also proposed new legislation that, if it becomes law, would ban anyone from arriving in the UK without prior permission to claim asylum.

But in a report released on Friday, the National Audit Office said the Home Office spent £3.6bn on asylum support costs in 2022-23, almost double the amount in 2021-22 and £2.2bn more than the department’s budget for asylum and protection. The group’s need for additional funding was draining the UK’s foreign aid budget, it said.

“One factor behind rising costs is delays in asylum decision-making,” the NAO said, noting a steady increase in the time taken to process claims. Despite nearly doubling the number of caseworkers from last year, the program still lags.

At the end of March 2023, 129,000 people – or 75 per cent of the total – who claimed asylum had waited more than six months for an initial decision, the NAO said. This compares to 43 percent at the end of March 2017 and 61 percent at the end of March 2020.

“Despite recent progress, the Asylum and Protection Transformation Program has a long way to go to meet the Government’s ambitions,” NAO chief Gareth Davies said.

“The Home Office has almost doubled the number of decisions made each week, although it is unclear whether this will be enough to clear the backlog of old asylum decisions by the end of 2023. To date, the program is not on track to achieve the expected benefit, ” he added.

The NAO said prioritizing legacy claims would likely lead to a new backlog of more recent claims, which would “increase from around 61,000 in April 2023 to around 84,000 by December 2023”.

Meeting Sunac’s pledge to clear the legacy backlog by the end of the year will require an average of 2,200 decisions a week from May 2023, the NAO estimates. The rate till April was 1,310.

Questioned by the House of Commons home affairs select committee on Wednesday, Braverman admitted the government would not meet its targets at the current pace. But she said her department continues to increase the number of caseworkers and the number of asylum decisions will increase by the end of the year.

“We are moving in the right direction,” she stressed, adding that it will never be possible to clear the numbers completely because “the boats keep coming”.

In response to the report, the Home Office said: “The Government is working continuously to reduce the asylum backlog and deliver cheaper, more manageable alternatives to hotel accommodation.”

“As the NAO acknowledges, we have doubled the number of caseworkers and reduced the legacy backlog by 20 per cent, but we know more must be done to bring the asylum system back into balance.”

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