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Reforming the UK border and immigration system

The two new Home Office directorates that have replaced the former UK Border Agency have had no significant performance falls during or after the split of the Agency. Improvements have been made in some areas, but not across the whole business.

In March 2013, the Home Secretary abolished the remaining Agency and brought its work into the Department under two new directorates: UK Visas and Immigration; and Immigration Enforcement.

New service standards introduced by UK Visas and Immigration have given customers greater transparency regarding the time taken to complete different types of visa application. The Department has also prioritized clearing backlogs of cases, and made additional resource available to do so.

Progress in clearing the backlogs varies, however. UK Visas and Immigration has cleared all straightforward cases in the areas of temporary and permanent migration but, as at March 2014, the Department had around 301,000 open cases. These comprise some 85,000 which are in hand and remain within the timescales for reaching a decision in the temporary and permanent migration area; and other specific backlogs, most notably over 25,000 claims for asylum.

According to the NAO, there is a risk that cases on hold are not dealt with in a reasonable time. These include asylum cases awaiting a decision and cases in the ‘migration refusal pool’, where the Department does not know whether those people who have been refused leave to remain have indeed left the country.

Poor IT means that the Department lacks the good quality information needed to run the business. The flagship Immigration Casework (ICW) programme was supposed to replace the legacy Casework Information Database and 20 other systems, but the ICW programme was closed in August 2013, having not delivered all the planned functions, the whole programme having cost £347 million. Caseworkers, therefore, still rely on a legacy system. Support contracts for vital legacy systems are due to expire in 2016, before the new Immigration Platform Technologies programme rolls out fully in 2017.

Staff across the directorates told the NAO of their concerns around data quality for cases. Some data is transferred manually from paper to IT systems, increasing the risk of errors.

Low morale and a fear of drawing attention to bad news were commonplace in the Agency and issues frequently surfaced only at crisis points. According to the NAO, senior managers in the new directorates are changing the culture inherited from the former Agency and, while still low, morale is improving.


“The Home Office has started making significant changes since the Agency was broken up and has made progress in some areas. We would have expected greater progress by now though in tackling the problems we identified in 2012 in areas such as specific backlogs and IT. Among our recommendations is that the Department prioritize outstanding backlogs and act to prevent the cases that it classifies as unworkable building up into backlogs.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors


Total gross budget for immigration and borders operations, 2014-15


Of Department budget (excluding police grant) spent on immigration and borders


Of Department staff work on immigration and borders

94 per cent

Of immigration applications decided within service standards – first quarter 2014

24 per cent

Increase in local enforcement activity, such as arrests, by Immigration Enforcement in 2013-14, compared with 2012-13


Open cases, including backlogs, reported to the Home Affairs Select Committee – first quarter 2014. Some 85,000 open cases are normal work in progress in temporary and permanent migration


Oversight boards and committees for the immigration and border system

13 and 15 per cent

Percentage amount that UK Visas and Immigration and Immigration Enforcement scored below the civil service average – for pride in telling people where they work (October 2013 Department-wide survey)

£347 million

Spent on the cancelled Immigration Case Work (ICW) programme

1. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.

2. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Amyas Morse, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 820 employees. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of £1.1 billion in 2013.

PN: 44/14