The Chief inspector of Immigration has told to MPs this week that customer service at the UK Border Agency is “shockingly poor”.
Some of you have had dealings with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) may be saying: “No s*** Sherlock!”
In his report to the Parliamentary cross party Home Affairs Committee, Inspector Vine delivered a damning assessment of the agency’s decision making, management, use of jargon and culture.
He did not go so far to call it “not fit for purpose” – a phrase used to describe the Home Office by then Home Secretary John Reid in 2006, who went on to set up what was to become the UKBA – an agency set up by a department “not fit for purpose”.
Mr Vine’s earlier report found major failings in the handling of unresolved asylum cases and a backlog of 150,000 reports of students not studying who are now being tracked down by private bounty hunters.
John Reid’s famous portrayal of the immigration directorate, the ‘mother’ of the UK Border Agency, as “not fit for purpose” after the mistaken release of thousands of foreign prisoners, led to a complete shake-up of the system and the eventual splitting up of the Home Office into two different departments.
The UKBA’s ‘CEO’ Lyn Homer later described the agency as a “business”. The so-called business paid her a salary twice that of the British Prime Minister.
Mr Vine continued: “In some parts of the agency I see improvement. In this particular part of the agency, that I inspected, I was disappointed not to find the progress I expected to see.”
He added: “The agency needs to set a new date for the conclusion of asylum legacy cases and stick to it. And in the meantime be as transparent as possible in informing you and members of the public about the actuality of the data.”
He said “more can be done” to ensure legacy cases were treated as a priority by local immigration teams.
And it was “difficult to ascertain the rationale behind some of the decisions that were made” in the 6,000 cases where individuals had been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain or permanent residency in the UK.
For instance, caseworkers had no way of knowing, from the files, how many had criminal convictions, he told the committee.
There was also no way of knowing whether or not claims were valid, only that the files had been sitting on the floor of someone’s office for a very long time.
Vine described a fragmented organisation in which departments, such as the enforcement arm, had no idea what other parts, such as local immigration teams, were doing. Files regularly went missing or got lost in the system.
Hardly surprising when Home Office departments are scattered all over the UK in places as far apart as Croydon, Liverpool and Sheffield. The Sheffield work permit department was set up by local MP and then Home Secretary David Blunkett wanted to create jobs in his own constituency.
One result of this chaotic mess led to 2,000 asylum seekers being categorised as “missing” even though the individuals had been reporting regularly to the authorities, the committee was told.
Mr Vine was critical of the use “confusing” jargon, acronyms and “imprecise” language, which he said made a complicated system “less easy to understand less transparent”.
In his latest report, on the UKBA’s handling of legacy asylum and migration cases, Mr Vine found a third of letters from lawyers and MPs were repeat requests for information about ongoing asylum cases.
“By any benchmark of a public sector organisation, that’s a poor level of service,” he said before adding that complaints handling in other parts of the UKBA he had inspected had been “equally poor”.
Although 7% of UKBA files had gone missing and others had been duplicated and were “floating” around the system, he said the biggest problem was the organisation’s working culture.
“Workers in the agency don’t see the people behind the files,” he told the MPs.
Last month, Mr Vine accused the UKBA of supplying inaccurate information to MPs about the backlog of asylum cases and said Parliament had received incorrect assurances about progress.
UKBA’s Director of International Operations, Jonathan Sedgwick, was forced to apologise to the Home Affairs Committee for what he said was an “inadvertent” mistake.
Mr Vine’s has accurately summed up what anyone who has ever had to use and pay for the services of the UKBA (including British people trying to sponsor a spouse or partner) has known for years: There is no ‘customer service’ culture and in many cases ‘customers’ are treated with contempt.
Even EU citizens such as Bulgarians and Romanians are kept waiting over six months for simple yellow card permits to study and work in the UK, despite a warning by the EC that the UK was not complying with the law.
If you need any immigration advice or are worried about the new immigration rules or need help with Sponsorship or Tier 2, Tier 4, applying for university if your college has closed down, Visa, ILR, Settlement, Citizenship, Dependant Visa or an appeal against a UK Border Agency or British Embassy refusal, or if you have been waiting for a reply from the Home Office for longer than a year, please email:
Majestic College offer special packages for EU students. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.
For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org