Chief Inspector highly critical of Home Office internal review process
The Immigration Act 2014 removed rights of appeal to an independent judge against refusal of many immigration decisions, replacing appeals with a system of internal review within the Home Office. It is called Administrative Review. The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, has just published a report into how well this process is working. He finds “significant room for improvement.”
Firstly, he observes that no internal review was introduced at all to replace one important category of appeal which was removed, which was against curtailment of leave. There is no right of appeal nor is there an Administrative Review, despite this being promised at the time of the passage of the Immigration Act 2014.
For those reviews which were introduced, inspectors found that the Home Office downgraded the seniority of the officials who were to conduct reviews to Administrative Officer level and
the bulk of the AOs redeployed into the AR Team had no experience in Points Based System casework and limited experience of other immigration casework, with permanent sta in the minority; that quality assurance was ineffective; and that there was no evidence of cases being identified as complex and passed to EO caseworkers to review. While staff and managers in the AR Team considered the training they had received to have been adequate, file sampling indicated considerable scope to improve their understanding of relevant Immigration Rules, guidance and practice.
That is very worrying indeed if you care about decision making and getting things right. It gets worse, though. Administrative Review applications were being wrongly invalidated by Home Office staff. Out of the inspection sample of 140 case files for in-country cases, officials had identified 15 wrongly decided cases but inspectors found a further 10. Out of a file sample of 65 out of country cases, officials identified 23 wrongly decided cases but inspectors found a further 6. As the report says:
Self-evidently, where the AR process failed to identify caseworking errors, it was ineffective in correcting them. Twenty one of the sampled 140 in-country ARs were ineffective in correcting errors: 18 where the errors were not identified, and three where errors were wrongly identified and reasons for refusal incorrectly amended.
The success rates were 22% and 21% for at the border and overseas ARs respectively, but only 8% for in-country ARs. That 8% figure is FAR lower than might be expected given the previously high success rate at appeal, but no-one at the Home Office has questioned whether that rate is the right one.
The report throws up some alarming examples. One woman’s review application was wrongly rejected out of time even though it was in time, as the Post Office “track and check” tool revealed on inspection. One student’s application was rejected on deception grounds for failing to mention an entry clearance refusal 10 years previously, even though he had subsequently been granted entry clearance and three extensions of leave. His application for review should have succeeded but did not. In another case, a student who had notified the Home Office of his change of address but still been mistakenly served with a decision to his old address was subsequently refused for overstaying. His review application also should have succeeded but did not.
As expected, Administrative Review seems to be a very poor replacement for appeals. There is a much lower success rate for applicants, the seniority of staff involved has ben downgraded, quality assurance is ineffective, feedback is non existent for out of country and at border reviews and training is inadequate.
It is hard to see how the Home Office has any real incentive to improve the Administrative Review process. Ministers and officials are no doubt delighted that fewer decisions are being overturned and less resources have to ploughed into defending more effective appeals. That is not the official line, however. In its official response the Home Office says
We were concerned by the findings, it shows quality has not consistently been of the standard to which we aspire and we have wasted no time in making a series of far reaching changes to the way we operate this activity.
The recommendations by the Inspector are basically all accepted. More senior staff will allegedly be recruited. Training has been delivered. An independent panel may also be set up to review the reviewers. I’m sure that we can all rest easy now.