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The Asylum Claim Backlog Explained In Six Charts


7 min read

Asylum seekers and migration remain at the forefront of the government’s agenda, with Home Secretary Suella Braverman declaring that the system is “broken”.

Braverman infamously described the increase in Channel crossings as an “invasion on our southern coast”, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has since taken up the mantle with a new five-point plan to tackle the issue.

That plan also included measures to reduce the backlog of asylum cases, which has also grown significantly over the past few years.

Here are six charts illustrating the current challenges the Home Office faces:

How big is the asylum case backlog?

The number of people awaiting a decision on their asylum case has almost tripled in the last three years, from 48,400 in September 2019 to 148,533 in September 2022.

There has been a significant increase in the number of asylum claims in recent years, with a total of 72,027, relating to 85,902 people, in the year to September 2022. This figure is almost double the number logged in 2019.

According to the Refugee Council, a major factor in the increase in applications is “the continued global increase in the number of people displaced due to war and conflict”. 

While the number of asylum claims has increased, the backlog is largely put down to delays in processing, partly caused by administrative issues at the Home Office and an increase in more complex cases.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out his government’s plan to tackle the growing backlog, which he warned “will only get worse” unless the government acts “decisively now”.

He has pledged to abolish a large proportion of the existing backlog by the end of 2023.

How many asylum claims are processed each year?

Since 2015, the number of asylum claims being processed each year has fallen dramatically, which has contributed to the current backlog.

In 2019, 29,581 decisions were made on aslyum applications. This fell to just 1,430 in 2021.

Addressing the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this year, Dr Peter Walsh, senior researcher at the Migration Observatory, said that administrative issues at the Home Office were a significant factor in the falling number of claims processed.

He said factors such as “inadequate training”, “fairly low morale” and a “high staff turnover” were a likely cause, alongside the use of “antiquated IT systems”.

“It is thought that it takes anywhere between a year and a year and a half to gain the proficiency to make good, effective asylum decisions, but people are leaving before they accumulate that experience,” he said.

Dr Walsh also suggested that “the abolition of an internal service standard” meant that Home Office staff were no longer being required to process asylum claims within six months, which had contributed to a “decline in processing speed”.

To help tackle this, Sunak has pledged to double the number of asylum caseworkers and “radically reengineer” the process to include clearer guidance and less paperwork. 

How long are asylum seekers awaiting a decision?

Over the last five years the number of people waiting longer than six months for a decision on their asylum claim has drastically increased, from 15,674 in September 2018 to 148,533 in September 2022. 

The Home Office does not provide more detailed breakdowns of wait times, but a 2021 report by the Refugee Council found that the number of people waiting over a year for a decision had increased from 3,588 in 2010 to 33,016 in 2020 – an almost tenfold increase over the decade.

Whilst they are awaiting a decision, asylum applicants are processed in initial accommodation – often hotels, hospitals or larger processing centres – before being moved to dispersal accommodation – temporary accommodation managed by accommodation providers on behalf of the Home Office.

During this time, they are not permitted to work, and are supported via a weekly cash allowance alongside free access to healthcare and education.

How many asylum seekers are being supported by the government?

In recent years, the number of asylum seekers being placed in hotels while they await the outcome of their claim for support has increased steadily. 

This is proving costly for the government, which predicted last year it would spend up to £70m on hotel accomodation alone. 

In September 2019, there were 3,857 staying in hotels, but this has since increased to 5,205 in September 2022. The total number of people seeking support has also almost doubled in the same period from 51,062 to 100,547.

The support provided by the government to asylum seekers falls into a number of different categories, set out by the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act.

Section 95 support is offered to people claiming asylum who do not have access to accommodation and cannot afford to meet their basic living needs. They will be provided with a place to live, paid for by the government, and subsistence. 

In cases where asylum seekers have accommodation available, they can be provided with subsistence support only.

Applicants are provided with a debit card, and are given £40.85 a week for each person in their household, with extra payments available if it includes young children. This support is withdrawn if they are granted leave to remain, or if their claim is unsuccessful and they have no children in the household.

While their application for support is being decided, asylum seekers are given hotel accommodation under Section 98, and do not receive additional subsistence grants.

If an asylum application is rejected and all rights to appeal are exhausted, people can apply for interim Section 4 support. They receive the same accommodation and subsistence as they did under Section 95 support, but must meet specific requirements.

This includes proving they are taking steps to leave the UK, cannot leave the UK due to a physical impediment, have no safe route of return, or if they are seeking an additional judicial review.

The data released by the Home Office does not include population figures for processing centres, such as the one at Manston Airport.

How many people arrive in the UK via small boat crossings?

Home Secretary Suella Braverman was heavily criticised earlier this year for referring to the increase in migrants arriving via small boat crossings as an “invasion on our southern coast” during a Commons debate.

There has been a significant increase in the number of small boat crossings in recent years, from just 747 between July and September 2019, to 20,282 in the same period this year.

Braverman said at the time that this increase was being “facilitated by criminal gangs”, and claimed that many of those arriving by this route were not “refugees in distress”.

Sunak also announced measures to tackle these crossings in his statement earlier this month with a new “small boats operational command” which would use improved technology to catch and prosecute “more gang-led boat pilots”.

Where do people arriving by small boats come from?

Since 2018, the majority of those arriving via small boats whose country could be identified originated from Iran, followed by Albania and Iraq.

Home Office figures suggest that 12,139 of those arriving by small boats have originated from Albania, which the government has insisted is a safe country.

As part of his new plan on immigration, Sunak announced specific measures to tackle people coming from Albania, including placing UK Border Force officers at Albania airports to “disrupt organised crime and stop people coming here illegally”.

He also said caseworkers would be given “crystal clear” guidance on Albanian migrants, and that the threshold for modern slavery would be raised to prevent Albanians from “unfairly” exploiting the system.

An accord has since been reached between the UK and Albanian governments, with the hope of fast-tracking the expulsion of “thousands” of Albanians over the next year.

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