Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today the results of his independent review of the Home Office’s quarterly asylum statistics published alongside this report. This work was carried out by the NAO in response to an invitation from the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office in April 2004 to:
- Assess the data reliability of the quarterly asylum statistics released by the Home Office;
- Assess whether the process for compiling those statistics is in line with the guidelines and standards of the Office for National Statistics for compiling National Statistics;
- On the basis of the statistical evidence, consider whether recent changes in the number of asylum applications have had any significant impact on other forms of migration;
- Make recommendations for tackling any weaknesses the audit may reveal;
- Publish report alongside the release of the next quarterly asylum statistics on 25 May.
The National Audit Office found that:
The asylum data and statistics are in most respects reliable, including the Home Office reporting that the number of asylum applications halved between October 2002 and September 2003.
There are however several weaknesses in the process of compiling the statistics and in their presentation, some of which impact on other items in the published statistics.
The Home Office applies the ONS Code of Practice and Protocols well in some areas, but there is scope for the Home Office to consult users more, present the statistics more clearly and improve their coverage. The Home Office has appropriate practices in place to ensure the integrity of its asylum statistics in line with established protocols.
There is no clear statistical evidence that the reduction in the number of asylum applications has had any significant impact on other forms of migration.
Reasons for migration are extremely complex and a change in numbers for any route of entry may reflect the operation of a broad range of factors. Often, these factors work independently of one another and reflect decisions taken by a myriad of people and organisations, including migrants themselves, governments and other organisations, in response to changing circumstances.
Reductions in the number of asylum applications can be explained, in part, by measures taken by the government to manage down the intake of asylum seekers, alongside other wider trends. The UK remains a very attractive destination for some people from overseas. In the time available, the statistical analyses in this Report focused on changes in the number of people entering the UK through individual routes of entry. Further research might be usefully carried out to compare asylum flows with the combined statistics for all routes of entry and by nationality. This would allow a broader picture to be obtained of any relationships that exist between asylum and other forms of migration, rather than one based only on individual routes.