The Home Office is set to scrap the current six-month wait limit on asylum applications, despite warnings that further delays could see a spike in legal challenges, as well as a decline in mental health among seekers.
In 2014 the Home Office introduced a policy which aimed to process 98 percent of “straightforward” claims within six months.
Despite the policy, application processes are becoming lengthier year on year, with 14,603 people waiting longer than six months for their application to be processed, a 25 percent increase between 2016 and 2017, according to Refugee Action.
In 2017, 234 asylum seekers waited between three and five years for a decision on their application. In the worst known delayed case, an applicant waited for 26 years and one month.
The Human Impact Of Delays
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Human rights lawyers have warned that by cutting the six-month target policy, the Home Office is opening itself up for more issues.
“We very regularly see asylum seekers who wait over six months for an initial decision. In many cases, we have no option but to resort to issuing judicial review proceedings to challenge the delay in a decision being made in a client’s asylum claim,” explained Hannah Baynes, from Duncan Lewis solicitors, adding that this will “result in the courts’ time and public funds being used up.”
“I am concerned about the impact on clients’ health if the Home Office is planning to abandon its current target of six months for initial decisions in asylum claims. Such a practice creates uncertainty and means that those seeking asylum in the UK are unable to move on with their lives.”
This creates uncertainty and means that those seeking asylum in the UK are unable to move on with their lives.”
Hannah Baynes, Duncan Lewis solicitors
A Home Office spokesperson explained that the six-month service standard has been scrapped so that cases with “acute vulnerability”, such as unaccompanied children seeking asylum, can be focussed on.
“We are committed to ensuring that asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay, to ensure that individuals who need protection are granted asylum as soon as possible and can start to integrate and rebuild their lives, including those granted at appeal.
“Additionally, we will prioritise cases where an individual has already received a decision but a reconsideration is required. We are engaging stakeholders to help inform how we will prioritise decision-making in the future, which will result in a new service standard that will seek to address the concerns that have been raised with the current arrangements,” they said.
Time Limits For Immigration Detention Save Money And Lives
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As well as maintaining a time limit on asylum application processes, campaigners have said that it is integral that a time limit is imposed on immigration detention.
An economic report by Cambridge Econometrics and the human rights group Liberty found that by introducing a 28-day cap on detention, between £25 and £35 million of taxpayer money could be saved. Between 2017-18, the Home Office spent £108 million on detention.
Currently, about 69 percent of detainees are released within 28 days. Overall, 95 percent are released within six months and 99 percent within a year.
Locking people up with no release date always has a devastating human cost – now we know it has a financial cost, too.
Sam Grant, Liberty’s policy and campaign manager
Liberty’s policy and campaigns manager, Sam Grant, explained that not providing detainees with a release date has a “devastating human cost”.
“This report shows the government has a clear opportunity to create a cheaper, more humane system by introducing a 28-day time limit,” Grant said.
“This win-win policy would save the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds while making sure fewer people are detained and for shorter amounts of time. It’s time the government listened to growing pressure from the public and all political parties and ends indefinite detention.”
The Home Office has commissioned a review into how time limits work in other countries, and in a statement added that “there has been much debate about the introduction of a 28-day time limit, but as Stephen Shaw [the former prisons and probation ombudsman] noted, it rests mainly on slogans rather than evidence”.
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