Cost of asylum system nears £4bn as backlog hits new record high

Home Office spending on asylum rose by £1.85bn in 2022/23, and figures show 80% of asylum seekers are waiting longer than six months for a decision.

Flora Thompson
Thursday 24 August 2023 16:50 BST
More than 19,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the English Channel so far this year (Gareth Fuller/PA)
More than 19,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the English Channel so far this year (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

The cost of the UK’s asylum system almost doubled in a year and now stands at nearly £4 billion as the backlog hit another record high.

Home Office spending on asylum rose by £1.85 billion, from £2.12 billion in 2021/22 to £3.97 billion in 2022/23. A decade ago, in 2012/13, the total cost to the taxpayer was £500.2 million.

A raft of immigration statistics, published by the Government on Thursday, also show that 80% of asylum seekers are waiting longer than six months for an initial decision.

It comes as Channel crossings topped 19,000 for the year so far, according to separate Home Office figures.

A total of 175,457 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application in the UK at the end of June 2023, up 44% from 122,213 for the same period a year earlier – the highest figure since current records began in 2010.

Of these, 139,961 had been waiting longer than six months for an initial decision, up 57% year on year from 89,231 and another record high.

Labour said the record-high asylum backlog amounts to a “disastrous record” for Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, while campaigners called for claims to be processed more efficiently.

The Prime Minister pledged by the end of 2023 to clear the backlog of around 92,601 so-called “legacy” cases which had been in the system as of the end of June last year.

In the six months since Mr Sunak made his promise, the figure reduced only by just less than a quarter (23%).

There were 67,870 legacy asylum cases awaiting a decision as of June 30 2023. To clear this total by the end of the year, just over 11,300 cases would need to be dealt with each month. The number of legacy cases fell by 11,084 from the end of March to the end of June – the equivalent of nearly 3,700 cases cleared a month.

The Home Office insisted the Government is “on track” to clear the legacy backlog by the end of the year and said progress has been made since June, citing provisional figures to the end of July which indicated the total backlog of cases had fallen. But the latest available comparable figure for the number of asylum seekers awaiting an initial decision on their claim was not provided when requested.

But Peter Walsh, senior researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “The backlog remains stubbornly high, despite falling numbers of asylum claims and more asylum caseworkers in the Home Office.

“It’s becoming harder to see how the Government can meet its pledge to eliminate the so-called ‘legacy backlog’ of older claims by the end of the year, as the rate of decision-making would have to be more than doubled.”

Amnesty International UK said it was “utterly disgraceful that new asylum laws are being introduced to actually prevent the processing of claims altogether, which will make this backlog, its cost and the limbo it imposes on people even worse.”

The Home Office said the rise in the asylum backlog is “due to more cases entering the asylum system than receiving initial decisions”.

But the number of cases waiting to be dealt with increased by less than 1% in the three months to the end of June, suggesting the rise is slowing down.

This was “in part due to an increase in the number of initial decisions made, and an increase in the number of asylum decision-makers employed”, the department added.

Small boat arrivals accounted for fewer than half (46%) of the total number of people claiming asylum in the UK in the period.

The Government was also accused of failing vulnerable Afghans after figures confirmed they were the most common nationality among Channel crossings in first six months of the year and more than 9,000 had applied for asylum in the same period – almost double the number for the previous 12 months.

Some 233 people were resettled in the UK in the year to June under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) – one of two schemes set up in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

Meanwhile, 345 people crossed the Channel in six boats on Wednesday, at an average of 58 people per boat.

This takes the number recorded over three days so far this week to 1,217 and the overall total for 2023 to date to 19,174.

Indians were the third most common nationality for small boat arrivals in the first half of the year, after Afghanistan and Iran.

While 1,474 Afghans arrived in the six months to June, having crossed the Channel, there were 921 Iranians, and 867 Indian nationals.

The majority of Indian nationals arrived between January and March, with the Home Office saying the 670 arrivals in those three months was higher than any calendar year total for Indian nationals arriving by this method since records began.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The most up-to-date figures, released earlier this month, show that the total backlog of asylum cases has fallen to the end of July 2023, a month beyond what the statistics released today cover.

“We are also on track to clear the ‘legacy’ asylum backlog by the end of this year. The latest statistics show this has already been reduced by over 28,000 cases since the end of December 2022, with more than 25% of these being made in the last two months.

“The number of decisions being made overall is also up by 61% and we continue to double the number of caseworkers to further speed up the system as well using asylum questionnaires in appropriate cases to simplify the decision-making process.”

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