UKBA attacked over 'inaccurate' data given to MPs

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Media captionJohn Vine: "There were 150 boxes of unopened, recorded mail... in a room in Liverpool"

UK Border Agency officials (UKBA) have been accused of supplying inaccurate information to Parliament about the backlog of asylum cases.

A report from the chief inspector of borders and immigration found significant failings in the agency's handling of unresolved cases.

John Vine said MPs had received incorrect assurances about the progress of the work.

A Home Office spokesman said it was turning around the "troubled" agency.

The critical report is the second in two weeks to raise serious questions about the ability of the agency to deal with its massive backlog of immigration cases.

The Home Affairs Committee said earlier in November that the UKBA's attempts to clear the backlog could result in an unjustified amnesty for immigrants with no right to stay in the UK.

'Unopened mail'

In 2006, the home secretary ordered the UKBA to deal with 450,000 unresolved asylum cases within five years.

By the summer of 2011, the agency said it had 147,000 unresolved cases left and that it needed to launch a special unit to deal with them.

But the report said this new unit had quickly become overwhelmed. At one point there were 150 boxes of unopened mail from asylum applicants, their lawyers and constituency MPs stored in a room at the agency's Liverpool offices.

Mr Vine said the agency had failed to routinely or consistently make security checks to try to trace some of the unresolved cases that had been subsequently placed in the "controlled archive", a list of people UKBA officials believed they could not trace.

"I also found that no thorough comparison of data from controlled archive cases was undertaken with other government departments or financial institutions in order to trace applicants until April 2012," he said.

"This was unacceptable and at odds with the assurances given to the Home Affairs Select Committee that 124,000 cases were only archived after 'exhaustive checks' to trace the applicant had been made.

"Updates given by the agency to Parliament in the summer of 2011, stating that the legacy of unresolved asylum cases was resolved, were inaccurate. In fact, the programme of legacy work is far from resolved.

"On the evidence, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that cases were placed in the archive after only very minimal work in order to fulfil the pledge to conclude this work by the summer of 2011."

Speaking to BBC Radio Four's Today programme, Mr Vine added that the "human cost" of delaying asylum applications for years is also "quite significant".

"People who are in this backlog have been complying with the requirements of the Border Agency to supply the information so their status could be determined.

"Because of the inefficiency of the operation, I'm afraid their status in many cases is still outstanding."

'Unacceptable backlog'

A Home Office spokesman said: "The backlog of asylum claims that was allowed to build up before 2006 was unacceptable. Since then, UKBA has worked its way through the backlog.

"UKBA's policy was that all cases in the controlled archive should be checked regularly against [government security watch-list] the Warnings Index and the police national computer. This report shows that these checks were not carried out."

The Home Office said that it had now reviewed the cases and carried out a "robust process" to trace those it knew were still in the UK.

"We have known for some time that UKBA is a troubled organisation with a poor record of delivery," said the spokesman. "Turning the agency around will take time, but we are making progress."

But shadow Home Office minister Chris Bryant said: "The Chief Inspector's report is utterly damning. The Home Secretary must immediately explain why her department's UKBA has provided incorrect information to the Home Affairs Select Committee and to Parliament as well as ignored requests for information from the Select Committee.

"She must also explain why her staff have been so slapdash in their attempts to track down failed asylum seekers. She cannot hide behind others. This has happened on her watch."

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