The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, has published a new report which is highly critical of Home Office complaint handling. The findings echo those of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman from November 2015.
Bolt and his team find “considerable room for improvement” in many respects. For example
- Minor misconduct complaints were automatically recorded centrally as “unsubstantiated” before any investigation had occurred.
- Complainants were misled to believe that individual immigration officials could not be identified when in fact no effort had been made to identify them.
- One in five complaint responses was in an inappropriate tone or not in plain English.
- Record keeping was poor.
- Internal guidance was “lengthy and internally inconsistent” and was not followed in practice.
- There was “no evidence” of the Home Office using complaints to drive improvements in service.
- The Home Office regularly missed its own 20 day time limit for complaint responses.
In one example, an asylum claimant complained through their lawyer that a Home Office asylum interviewer had laughed when he had described being tortured. This complaint was recorded and a letter was sent to the complainant saying it would be investigated. The very same day the complaint was recorded as “unsubstantiated” and also recorded as closed. There was no evidence the complaint had been investigated.
In contrast to the handling of complaint correspondence from the public, the Home Office is found to deal with Members of Parliament efficiently, effectively and with no quality issues.
The Home Office accepts the criticisms and says it will implement six of the eight recommendations in full and the other two in part. That is what the Home Office always says in response to such reports, though, and if this were true then the direction of travel for quality would be upward rather than downward. To use a favoured phrase of the gap year students reported to be making life or death asylum decisions, such claims lack credibility.