Letters: Grappling with visa service delays

These letters appear in the 14 April edition of The Independent

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I was saddened to read the report (11 April) concerning the delay in issuing a visa to the grandson of a decorated Second World War veteran, Anthony Eldrige DSC, who may have only a few days to live. However, your readers should know that this is not a rare occurrence. I work as a consultant in British immigration and nationality law. I regularly deal with clients who experience unacceptable delays in the issuing of visas.

It often proves impossible to contact anybody by telephone. I recognise only too well the account in your report of the visa applicant being put through to a premium-rate line in his attempts to contact the British embassy. My company has been forced on a number of occasions to use this “service” at considerable expense to our clients, only to receive a response which has been of no help.

Emailing the visa centre will not expedite matters, as they can take up to five days to reply. Indeed in a recent case we handled on behalf of a client, who had been waiting months for a decision on his visa and had already missed several appointments in Britain as a result, we received an email informing us that no decision had been made. As it turned out, our client’s visa had been available for him to collect at the British embassy in the country concerned 10 days before we were told by email that no decision had been made.

As your report says, Teleperformance is not responsible for making decisions on whether to grant a visa, but they are the first and often only point of contact that visa applicants have.

The Home Office is hardly any better in dealing with immigration matters. An increasing amount of my time and that of my colleagues is spent trying to sort out mistakes made by the Home Office or their agents, and again it is often impossible to contact anybody in person. Rather one is forced to communicate by email or post and wait for a reply, which can take weeks. Many of these matters could be resolved if it was possible to talk to the department concerned.

Immigration policy is an issue in the coming election. Whatever the wrongs and rights of a particular policy, those who have to deal with the British immigration authorities have a right to expect that their cases will be dealt with efficiently. It is not good enough to impose a particular regime without providing the necessary resources.

Your paper has done a service in highlighting this particular case. However, many ordinary people without the distinguished record of Mr Eldridge are facing similar problems daily, as they grapple with this country’s visa and immigration services.

Gerard Harrison
Richmond, Surrey


Tax bribe for owners of big houses

When a hasty promise is made by a panicking person, unintended consequences can arise.

If elected, the Tories plan to adjust the inheritance tax rules so that the value of a home jointly owned by a couple will be exempt of tax up to a value of £1m. On the face of it, this appears to be a good thing but it could create an odd result.

Consider an older couple living in a large house valued around the £1m level. Outside London, this would be quite a large property, probably an under-used family home.

As they grow older it would be normal for them to consider downsizing to a smaller property, allowing a new younger family to enjoy the size and space of this larger family home. Under this proposal there is a strong disincentive to downsizing, since equity held in the home will enjoy tax relief, while equity released will be taxed  as before. It’s likely that such a couple will hang on in the large property in order to maximise their heirs’ legacy.

We’d heard about the elderly “bed-blocking” in the NHS, now, it seems, the Tories are planning “bedroom-blocking”,  as well.

Tim Brook


To allow £1m houses to be passed on free of inheritance tax is to freeze the housing market. Imagine offspring badgering doddery parents to hang on to their underutilised and inconvenient family homes. This Tory proposal is the last thing the housing market needs.

It’s also time our politicians were honest about taxing the Englishman’s proverbial castle. Property tax is cheap and easy to collect, and impossible to avoid. The bigger the house, the greater the homeowner’s stake in a stable society, hence the higher the property tax.

Yes, property tax incorporates an element of wealth tax, probably the only one that is not intrusive or cumbersome.

Meanwhile, council tax is crying out for reform. It is far too regressive. The answer, of course, is not a mansion tax but more bands and a long-overdue revaluation. More bands and a revaluation merely redistributes the council tax burden with, in all likelihood, more winners than losers. What’s not  to like?

Time for courage from our political class. And please, no more crocodile tears for “asset rich/income poor” widows.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset


I, or rather my beneficiaries, are likely to benefit from the Tories’ proposed change to inheritance tax on family homes. However, it doesn’t convince me at all in these “times of austerity” that it is the right thing to be doing. It is simply an election bribe pandering to Conservative core voters.

Peter Morris


Mixed record of Whigs in office

Despite the rightful admiration for the many positive and progressive policies and actions of the Whigs (“Tories’ (very) old enemies reappear on ballot papers after 150 years”, 13 April), we might need to apply a little balance.

Although there were Whigs that supported Catholic emancipation, Peel and Wellington (both Tories) were surely those most responsible for pushing it through Parliament. We should also remember that in its early days the party was responsible for the judicial murder of many innocent Catholics (including an archbishop) as part of an imagined plot that they promoted, along with its Quisling-like facilitating of a foreign invasion of Britain, the development of many anti-Catholic laws, and a vigorous pro-war policy.

Dr Coleman Dennehy
Department of History, University College London


Promises for all in a giveaway election

Oh what a lovely election! Never in the field of human franchise has so much been promised to so many by so few. So what next?

One doctor and two nurses to every patient? Five GCSEs to every pupil? Enough houses for all young couples to be able to choose where they live? Houses worth up to £2m to be free from any taxation, including council tax? Free ice cream when the temperature reaches 20C, and £1.50 instead of 75p extra for all over 80.

Never let it be said we are excluding anyone, and all this will be in operation by 2030 or 2040 provided we have a working majority in the next parliament.

Bill Fletcher
Cirencester,  Gloucestershire


A prospective election outcome in which there is no clear winner, shabby deals done behind closed doors, a government programme that nobody voted for and minority groups holding major parties to ransom.

Thank goodness we voted for the clarity of first-past-the-post instead of proportional representation!

Richard Charnley
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire


Hit porn sites in the wallet

The Conservatives’ proposal to “ban porn websites” that do not have age verification is welcome but excessively complicated and unlikely to succeed. None of these sites are philanthropic. They exist to make money and they only get their hands on it because the credit card companies and banks provide them with online payments facilities. The onus should be on these financial institutions to determine whether the sites have age verification in place.

If they don’t then they should not provide them with the means to collect or process any cash. That should pretty much do it, more or less overnight, and would avoid the necessity to “fine” ISPs or anyone else. It would also solve the problem of the sites being based overseas.

A similar system already works extremely well in respect of gambling websites.

John Carr
London NW5


Vote for me; I’m very well off

Has David Cameron got a political death wish?

We have seen daily, in our newspapers and magazines and on TV, him posing with his family amid luxury furnishings and in his expensive kitchen, all way beyond the means of the majority of the UK electorate.

So does he expect to get the vote of the low paid, unemployed, pensioners and the working classes?

Terry Duncan
Bridlington,  East Yorkshire