Department has insisted it remains on course to meet the prime minister’s target, while new data from the Office for National Statistics shows applications at their highest level in decades
The Home Office has insisted it is still “on track” to deliver on prime minister Rishi Sunak’s 2022 commitment to eliminate the “legacy” backlog of undecided asylum applications by the end of this year – despite numbers of new cases hitting a record high.
The government has frequently cited the potential for increased use of digital technology to expedite processes and help clear the backlog. Earlier this year, the Home Office even held a hackathon event in which tech experts were tasked with finding ways in which artificial intelligence systems might be used to tackle the logjam of applications, the Guardian reported.
But figures published last week show there were 78,768 asylum applications in the year to the end of June, up 19% on the previous 12-month period. The Office for National Statistics commentary said the latest figure was “the highest number of applications for two decades”.
- Asylum backlog tops 160,000 as Home Office streamlines process for five countries
- UK’s asylum backlog has doubled since 2020 – and Home Office cannot say how many interviews it conducted last year
- ‘Typical hostile environment treatment’ – Home Office leaves thousands of Turkish nationals waiting more than a year for visa decisions
Numbers of people waiting for an initial decision on asylum applications also hit a high of 175,457 at end of June, up from 122,213 the year before. More than one person can be the subject of a single asylum application and the number of applications awaiting an initial decision was lower for both years: 134,046 and 99,419 respectively.
In December, Sunak said the government expected to “abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions” by the end of 2023. The commitment has since been refined to cover eliminating the “legacy backlog” of asylum applications, defined as applications submitted before June 28, 2022.
Provisional data from the Home Office shows that the number of so-called “legacy” cases reduced from 90,358 in December last year to 62,157 as of July 30 this year. New applications awaiting initial decisions are described as “flow” cases. There were 74,662 of them at the end of July, an increase of 6,415 on the previous month. The provisional dataset puts the total backlog of asylum applications at 136,779 as of July 30.
Clearing the “legacy” backlog would require more than twice as many legacy claims to be processed in the final five months of the year than were processed in the first seven months.
However a Home Office spokesperson said the end-of-year target was still achievable. They pointed to the recent recruitment of 700 additional caseworkers and improved productivity as drivers for delivery.
“We are on track to clear the ‘legacy’ asylum backlog by the end of this year. The latest statistics show this has already been reduced by over 28,000 cases since the end of December 2022, with more than 25% of these being made in the last two months,” they said. “The number of decisions being made overall is also up by 61% and we continue to double the number of caseworkers to further speed up the system as well using asylum questionnaires in appropriate cases to simplify the decision-making process.”
The spokesperson said the Home Office’s headcount of decision-makers had doubled over the past two years. They added that productivity had also improved, with each caseworker carrying out an average of seven “substantive interviews” or making initial decisions on cases every month as of June this year, up from 4.2 in December.
Paul O’Connor, head of bargaining at the PCS union, said providing more resources to the Home Office was Sunak’s best course of action for dealing with the backlog of asylum cases.
“This means properly training and paying staff so they can carry out the work quickly, efficiently and humanely,” he said.