A Review of the Operation of the National Asylum Support Service
Author: Gill Noble, Alan Barnish, Ernie Finch, Digby Griffith
Author Organisation: N/A
The independent review of the operation of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) was charged with the following: to review the organisation, management, staffing and expertise within NASS to identify changes necessary in the short to medium term to enable it to consistently achieve the appropriate standards of operational and administrative performance; to submit a report, with recommendations, to the Minister of State responsible for immigration matters through the Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) by the end of May 2003.
The review team met with a wide range of staff within NASS and the rest of IND and a wide range of NASS's external stakeholders, including voluntary sector organisations, other government departments and local agencies and invited stakeholders who could not be met to submit written comments. The team examined existing documentation including reports of previous reviews, submissions by stakeholders, and management information from NASS and the rest of IND and visited various sites around the country to gain a better understanding of dispersal, support and accommodation issue. The review team also consulted the following organisations: National Audit Office, Home Office, Department of Health, HM Treasury, Number 10, Kent Country Council, LGA members task group, Migrant Helpline, Refugee Council, Citizens Advice, Refugee Action, and Clearsprings. Visits were also made to several locations: Croydon: Asylum Screening Unit; Dover: Migrant Helpline, Dover Induction Team, and NASS Dover Team; Leeds: Yorkshire and Humberside Consortium, Refugee Council One Stop Shop, Leeds City Council Reception Centre and potential induction centre, Waterside Centre; Sheffield: Sheffield City Council's Social Work, Housing, and Asylum Support Teams; Maidstone: Kent Country Council officers and members, including Social Work, Education, Asylum Support Teams, and Swale Borough Council offices and members.
- NASS is a young organisation struggling to do a complex, politically sensitive job, in difficult circumstances, with tight resources. It has never really had the change to get fully on top of its job due to a series of unforeseen circumstances that have arisen since its inception, including the upsurge in applications in 2001, the closure of Sangatte, and Restricted Access to NASS Support
- The organisation has to deal with a substantial amount of secondary casework due to queries and complaints from clients, and it is not resources to cope with this adequately
- NASS is seen as the public face of IND and is seen to be responsible for all IND's weaknesses. As such, it is the target for attention from the media, MPs, stakeholders, and other groups. This deflects the management from their primary role (of meeting the support and accommodation needs of asylum seekers) and impacts on the morale of the staff
- Staff in NASS have to wrestle with an inherent contradiction in their role. On the one hand they are providing a welfare support system to some very vulnerable people. But at the same time they are working within a framework of deterrent-based policies and legislation
The main part of the report is composed of findings and recommendations, in 13 separate sections. Some of the key points are summarised below:
- Substantial improvements in basic customer case are needed. For example, the present level of performance in handling and responding to telephone calls is not acceptable. In the longer term, customer care and client management must be essential components of the next phase of regionalisation and Induction Centres can have a vital role to play in ensuring that asylum seekers are properly briefed and fully aware of their rights and responsibilities.
- The existing IT systems are not good enough for the job they are supposed to do and the potential for using IT to change the way things are done is not being fully exploited. For example, in some cases asylum seekers were issued with instructions to travel to dispersal accommodation after having been granted asylum, and in numerous cases support was incorrectly terminated due to inaccurate information about the progress of an individual's appeal. The views of junior staff, who often have good ideas about how to improve performance, should be harnessed.
- NASS's relationship with the rest of IND needs to be improved. In particular, NASS should be treated as a full member of the IND family, as what it does impacts on the performance of other parts of IND, and vice versa. This organisational integration requires a culture change that must be driven by the whole senior management team of IND.
- NASS is still not good enough at working with its partners and outside stakeholders - including regional consortia, local authorities, and the Asylum Support Adjudicator. It can show considerable inexperience and political naivety in dealing with sensitive issues, such as the proposed establishment of an induction centre in Sittingbourne.
- The organisation is permeated by a worrying lack of financial discipline, stemming from the fact that it never had a meaningful three-year budge to work to. Human resource issues appear neglected, and training has been woefully neglected.
- NASS should have a dedicated procurement function integrated into its management structure. The procurement team needs to be more alerts to the political sensitivities surrounding the issue of asylum and to seek advice more proactively about local circumstances which may need to be taken into account in the handling of particularly sensitive purchases, like accommodation for induction centres.
- NASS needs to be more aware of the issue of social cohesion and to have ready access to good quality advice on it. Some of this can be gained by working more closely with local government. It must also be clear who in the Home Office is charged with advising NASS on social cohesion issues.
- NASS needs a period of stability in order to get on top of its remit. In the short term, it is therefore important that its role is not expanded beyond what it can reasonably cope with.
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