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The New Asylum Model, introduced by the Home Office in 2006 to achieve faster conclusions to asylum applications, has strengthened aspects of the asylum process, according to a report today by the National Audit Office. The case ownership approach, in which a single individual manages an application from start to finish, has created a strong incentive to conclude cases and applications are being concluded more quickly. But the new process is not yet working to its optimum efficiency and effectiveness.

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Today’s report recognises the challenge of managing the flow of asylum applications, which is dictated by world events. The UK Border Agency has done well to improve its handling of the casework. Under the New Asylum Model, there was a rise in the proportion of cases being dealt with within six months, peaking above the target of 40 per cent in December 2007. An increase in the number of asylum applicants during the second half of 2007 has however been followed by some slippage in performance. There are also signs that the quality of decision-making is improving.

The backlog of decisions to be made has however more than doubled in over a year, to 8,700 in the second quarter of 2008. At the point of application, the full screening interview is not taking place in a quarter of cases, so that key information about claims could be being missed. A possible consequence is that some people who could be held in detention and have their cases resolved quickly are not being detained. And some who should be excluded from detention might in fact be detained.

Few removals of failed applicants are being achieved under the New Asylum Model, hampered by a lack of detention space and problems obtaining emergency travel documents. Throughout the second half of 2007, the gap between unfounded applications and removals increased. For the year as a whole, the Agency missed its ‘tipping point’ objective, which is to remove more failed asylum applicants than the number who make new unfounded applications. Unfounded applications exceeded removals by over 20 per cent.

A separate process has been established to clear, by 2011, the backlog of cases that were unresolved before the introduction of the New Asylum Model. This backlog of ‘legacy cases’ was estimated at some 400,000 to 450,000 in June 2006 but, by December 2007, was put at some 335,000 cases. The Agency has made inroads: in total, 90,000 of these cases had been concluded by July 2008. But ten thousand cases a month would be needed to hit the 2011 target, compared with 4,000 a month being concluded so far, so on current plans the target looks challenging.

"The aim of the New Asylum Model is to strengthen the management of asylum applications, and it has delivered some improvements. But the system is not yet working as it should for every case. The UK Border Agency has to be sharper in gathering all relevant information as early as possible, translating it into good decisions and then speedily enforcing those decisions. There is a risk that a new backlog of unresolved cases will be created, adding to the existing backlog of 'legacy cases'."

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office


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