Home Office admits some immigration data ‘only held on paper’

Written by Sam Trendall on 22 January 2020 in News

Department is unable to share information on numbers of asylum applicants granted right to work as case files are only in hard-copy or other non-reportable formats

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Sections of Home Office immigration data are contained only in paper case files or in digital formats that are not “reportable”.

Victoria Atkins, the minister responsible for safeguarding and vulnerability, said that her department is not able to say how many asylum seekers were granted permission to work in the UK in 2019. This is due to the information in question being stored in various formats – including some that exists only on paper – that make it difficult to collate and share.

In answer to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Catherine West, Atkins said: “The data requested on the number of asylum seekers granted permission to work in 2019 is only held on paper case files or within the notes sections of the Home Office's databases. This information is not held in a reportable format and to obtain it would exceed the disproportionate cost threshold.”

PublicTechnology asked the Home Office whether keeping such data only on paper was standard practice and, if so, whether it had plans to address the situation.

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In response, a spokesperson said that the new Atlas digital case-working system currently being rolled out – which is designed to automate large parts of the immigration casework process – will ultimately eradicate the use of paper. The department has previously indicated that the implementation of Atlas for all newly created case files was due to have been completed by the end of 2019, with information from historic case files concurrently being migrated onto the new platform. 

“The Home Office are introducing a new immigration case-working system called Atlas,” the spokesperson said. “It will replace old systems with a modern and sustainable digital service – creating a more streamlined case-working process, providing more reliable and easier-to-access data, improving applicants’ experience and removing the requirement for paper files.”

There is an irony in the Home Office’s ongoing reliance on paper, given its steadfast and continued opposition to issuing any form of physical documents in other areas of the immigration system – namely the settled status scheme for EU citizens.

Select committees from both houses of parliament – as well as EU officials and advocacy groups – have strongly urged the department to rethink its decision to provide successful applicants evidence of settled status only in digital form. These calls have thus far gone entirely unheeded, with the Home Office repeatedly insisting that digital-only status is more secure.


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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