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The Border Force: securing the border

Since the UK Border Force was separated from the UK Border Agency, it has met some important objectives such as reducing queuing times both during and after the 2012 London Olympics. To provide value for money, however, it needs to perform effectively and in a sustained way across the full range of its activities.

The Border Force separated from the UK Border Agency because the Home Office was not confident the Border Force was capable of responding to instructions. To address this, the Border Force has standardized how its officers check passengers, and almost 100 per cent of passengers at the border now receive full passport checks.

The Border Force has also successfully reduced passenger queuing times at the border. In April 2012, just before the Olympics, it became clear that the Border Force was struggling to manage queue times. The Border Force introduced measures to deal with this and, in 2012-13, more than 99 per cent of passengers cleared passport controls within the target times of 25 minutes for European arrivals and 45 minutes for those arriving from outside the EEA.

Border Force officers, however, reported that staff shortages and the requirement to prioritize full passenger checks while managing queue times often prevented their performing other important duties, such as checking freight. In addition, during the first months of 2012-13, the Border Force’s performance in some of its activities, such as seizures of cigarettes and counterfeit goods, entry refusals and detecting forgeries, was below target. The Home Office’s internal auditors confirmed in April 2013 that the 2012 Olympics and wider resourcing issues had an effect on the Border Force’s ability consistently to resource customs controls.

The Border Force’s workforce lacks organizational identity. The Border Force consists largely of officers who previously worked in separate customs and immigrations agencies, who typically still identify themselves as ‘ex-customs’ or ‘ex-immigration’. Five director-generals have been in post over the course of 18 months.

To meet the demands the Home Office has placed on it, such as carrying out full checks on all passengers rather than risk-based checks, the Border Force is recruiting more staff. Despite this, NAO visits revealed continuing staff shortages at the border. The Border Force has not established whether it has the resources it needs to deliver all its objectives.

The Border Force needs to deploy staff flexibly to respond to its competing demands, but is prevented from doing this as efficiently as possible because almost a fifth of its workforce is employed under terms and conditions that restrict working hours to fixed periods during the week. At Heathrow in spring 2013, less than half the workforce was contractually obliged to work before 5am without being paid additional benefits in kind, despite a significant number of long-distance flights arriving at that time.


“The Department has placed greater demands on the Border Force, which has successfully implemented full passenger checks and reduced queuing times. It has achieved this progress by focusing on a subset of its full range of responsibilities. The Border Force now needs to show it can apply the lessons learned from its successes to date across its full range of activities to ensure the security of the border. The Department needs to fund it to do so.” 

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors


The number of ports in the UK, France and Belgium staffed by the Border Force


The approximate number of the Border Force's full-time equivalent staff at 31 March 2013


The Border Force's 2013-14 budget

10 per cent

Projected growth in the number of passengers arriving in the UK on flights between 2011 and 2017, from 106 million to 117 million

28 per cent

Projected growth in air freight between 2010 and 2015, from 2.4 million tonnes to 3million tonnes

6 per cent

Reduction in full-time equivalent staff between April 2010 and March 2012, from 8,023 to 7,527

12 per cent

Maximum budgeted increase in full-time equivalent staff from March 2013, to a ceiling of 8,477

81 per cent

Of non-European passengers cleared within 45 minutes at Heathrow in April 2012

99.9 per cent

Of non-European passengers cleared within 45 minutes at Heathrow in March 2013

  1. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  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 860 staff. 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 almost £1.2 billion in 2012.

PN: 53/13