ICAR 'Focus On' March 2010: New Asylum Model: Faster and Fairer?

19 March 2010

As the parliamentary ombudsman's report into the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) is released, ICAR intern Anna Isaacs argues that the failure to reduce the length of time in which decisions are processed shows that the New Asylum Model has not achieved its goal of making high quality, cost effective decisions in a timely manner.

The parliamentary ombudsman's report into the workings of the UKBA which was released in March raised a number of concerns about the ability of the current system to assess asylum claims in a timely manner.

Improvements in the way asylum claims are handled have been in evidence since the introduction of the New Asylum Model (NAM) in 2007 which aimed to make the system ‘faster and fairer', and to process a larger proportion of applications within six months.

For a number of reasons, however, the new system has not addressed all the problems that it was put in place to solve. Clearly the aims of the NAM were far too ambitious. There is a large backlog of asylum decisions to be made dating back from before the introduction of the new system. These individuals, many who have been waiting for a number of years to resolve their cases, have not benefited from a ‘faster and fairer' system. The NAM did not include provisions for completing these cases. In addition, through attempts to assess these pre-existing claims, new backlogs are being created in an increasing number of areas. The new system was essentially already overstretched at its inception. This does not mean that the NAM is a complete failure - indeed initial decisions do tend to be made faster than under the previous system - but this pre-existing asylum casework does not seem to have been sufficiently addressed.

The New Asylum Model itself, whilst an improvement in many ways, also has problems of its own. By removing the opportunity to present witness statements, asylum applicants lose the opportunity to present their story in a setting that is less stressful than an application interview. Furthermore, the current short time scale within which caseworkers are expected to assess asylum claims may lead to rushed and incorrect decisions.

Dissatisfaction with UKBA as a whole is increasingly being voiced. In the first nine months of 2009, there were 478 complaints against the UKBA to the Ombudsman and of those investigated, a large proportion were upheld. As highlighted by the ombudsman, the failings of the asylum decision-making process have negative consequences for those asylum seekers whose claims are taking a long time to process and are who are therefore stuck in limbo - one aspect of an asylum system that is, in many ways, broken. Asylum applicants are denied access to employment and given very limited support. Those who wait for years for a decision are likely to experience considerable anxiety and distress, unable to rebuild disrupted lives.  It would appear that the asylum decision system, as it stands today, is not succeeding in being either faster or fairer.

References:

Parliamentary Ombudsman (2010) ‘Fast and fair? A report by the parliamentary ombudsman on the UK border agency', London: The Stationary Office.

Refugee Council (2010) ‘Chief Inspector Report: UKBA failing to process asylum claims',  Available here

Refugee Council (2007) ‘Refugee Council Briefing: The New Asylum Model', London: Refugee Council.

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