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Immigration advice regulator attacks Home Office
Credit: gov.uk

Immigration advice regulator attacks Home Office

The head of the organisation that regulates immigration advisers has hit out at the Home Office, accusing the department of failing to make basic decisions about what the regulator is allowed to do. Dr Ian Leigh said that “unacceptable delay in decision-making on the part of the Home Office on numerous fronts has increasingly threatened the integrity of a fundamentally sound governance regime” at the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner.

Dr Leigh warned that delays in approving the budget, business plan and continued existence of his organisation have “caused uncertainty within the organisation and hindered longer-term planning”. Although only the deputy Commissioner, the former physicist has been the de facto head of the OISC since September, as the post of Commissioner has been vacant since then – something that was also on the list of complaints.

The OISC is the statutory regulator tasked with protecting migrants against rogue immigration advisers. It regulates over 3,000 of them. The OISC operates at arms length from the Home Office day-to-day, but the department oversees its governance and finances.

Writing in the OISC’s annual report, published yesterday, Dr Leigh listed specific examples of Home Office dilly-dallying:

  • Publication of the Triennial Review of the OISC (commenced in October 2014 and completed in May 2015) was repeatedly delayed until its appearance on 11 January 2017
  • The post of Immigration Services Commissioner remains vacant nearly two years after the departure of the previous Commissioner (on a date which had been known since 2010)
  • The OISC’s Business Plan 2016/17, submitted to the Home Office on 15 December 2015 was not approved until 19 December 2016 – three quarters of the way through the business year and three days after the OISC submitted its draft Business Plan for the following year
  • The associated formal letter of budget allocation and delegated authority was not issued by the Home Office until 1 February 2017 – 10 months into the financial year
  • The OISC’s Annual Report and Accounts were not laid before Parliament until 11 January 2017 – six months after their completion and certification by the NAO
  • Preparation of a new Framework Document to replace the 2006 Management Statement and Financial Memorandum took several years and was only completed in February 2017
  • The Home Office Official appointed Senior Sponsor for the OISC in October 2015 left the Department less than one year later, and a new Senior Sponsor did not take up post until March 2017.

All this, Dr Leigh writes, “has caused needless uncertainty throughout the year, leading to an increased risk to the reputation of the OISC”.

The document also alludes to tensions within the OISC, referring to “a number of complex staffing issues – one of which will be the subject of an employment tribunal hearing”.

More positively, pass rates for OISC exams improved across the board in 2016/17:

  • Level 1 assessment: 36% of candidates passed (up from 25%)
  • Level 2 assessment: 51% of candidates passed (up from 46%)
  • Level 3 assessment: 40% of candidates passed (up from 31%)

The number of recorded complaints about OISC advisers reached a record low, at just 338. The regulator secured 16 convictions for giving or advertising unqualified information advice in 2016/17, although this was below its convictions target of 20.

It also hauled one particular adviser before the First-tier Tribunal on 64 separate charges relating to fake Certificates of Sponsorship. The (unnamed) adviser was ordered to repay £172,600 in fees and banned from providing immigration advice indefinitely.

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