External review questions robustness of settled status test phases

Written by Beckie Smith and Sam Trendall on 7 May 2019 in News

Independent report claims programme could have benefited from more extensive tests

Credit: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment

An independent review of the EU settlement scheme has called into question whether the Home Office conducted “robust tests” of the programme’s processes and systems prior to its full launch last month.

The assessment, carried out by independent chief inspector of borders and immigration David Bolt, examined the scheme’s development up to the conclusion of the second private beta phase in January.

Around 1,000 people applied for settled status during the first private beta phase (PB1), which ran from 28 August to 17 October 2018. A further 29,0987 did so during PB2, which took place from November 1 until 21 January 2019. 

The review questioned whether this “low” level of take-up meant this qualified as “robust tests of the relevant systems and processes”.

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For example, there was little opportunity to stress-test how the system would cope with a large volume of applications, it said. And there were questions over the scheme’s ability to handle applications from vulnerable or “non-straightforward” applicants.

The take-up also raised concerns about whether enough people who were eligible for the scheme were aware that they needed to apply, it added.

Further potential communication problems were highlighted by the number of times applicants challenged the outcome of their case. More than 100 people challenged the decision to grant “pre-settled status”, which is for EU nationals who have been living in the country for fewer than five years, rather than “settled status”. In other cases, “confusion” arose when applicants believed they already had permanent residence status.

The report urged the Home Office to improve its communication around the scheme, as well as to set out how much the decision to remove the fee for settled status applications would cost the department. Inspectors said they had been unable to assess the impact of this decision.

And it said the Home Office must ensure the IT systems for handling the scheme are up to scratch to allow performance targets to be set for caseworkers and to enable regular reports on the breakdown of applicants and outcomes.

Some of the technology problems identified by inspectors have now been resolved, it said. For example, around 380 applicants encountered a problem whereby HM Revenue and Customs data proving their residence in the UK was not available, resulting in an error message. A ‘save and return’ function has now been added to prevent the same problem in future, the Home Office said.

Public beta
The report was published the same day as the Home Office published figures showing some 600,000 people have applied to the settlement scheme so far.

The internal review showed more than 200,000 people had applied during the public beta test phase, including 8,152 on the first day. By 16 April 2019, 187,959 of these applications had been decided, of which none have so far been refused, it said.

Of those beta-phase applications that had been resolved, the Home Office said 69% had been granted settled status and 31% pre-settled status.

The department claimed that 95% of applicants were able to successfully prove their identity using the document check Android mobile app. To date, applications have been successfully completed on 987 different devices from 92 different manufacturers, it added.

This does not, however, include any phones manufactured by Apple – by far the UK’s most popular smartphone maker. 

Due to its need to access a device’s near-field communication capability – which Apple does not permit for third-party apps – the document check app does not work on iPhones. The government has been in discussions with tech firm for some time to try and find a resolution that would allow the app to work on its devices.

The two parties have yet to come to an agreement, but the Home Office maintains that it is confident the app will become available on iPhone at some point this year.

During 2018’s closing quarter, more than 40% of smartphones sold in the UK were iPhones. This gave Apple more than double the market share of its closest rival, Samsung.


About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @Beckie__Smith.


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