Statewatch article: RefNo# 3060
UK: Immigration: Asylum "non-compliance" regulation abused by Home Office
Statewatch bulletin, vol 11 no 2 (March-April 2001)
"Sloppy and illegal” decisions will be appealed say immigration lawyers"

The biggest scandal of the past year has been the Home Office abuse of "non-compliance" refusal of asylum. The immigration rules give the Home Secretary and his officials power to refuse an asylum claim if the asylum claimant fails to “make prompt disclosure of material facts or to assist” the Home Office “in establishing the facts of the case”. A small proportion of asylum claimants have always disappeared, for one reason or another, after putting in their claim, and the rule was designed to enable the Home Office to deal with this perceived abuse of the asylum procedure. The rule was not meant as a means for the Home Office to massage its statistics so as artificially to enhance its decision rate, which is what has happened.

Promises, promises
The July 1998 White Paper contained the promise by the government to reduce the time taken to decide asylum claims to two months, and the total time (including the appeal) to six months. The promise was designed to show that the government was committed to reducing the huge backlog of asylum claims, and to meet criticisms of the other White Paper proposal - the replacement of welfare benefits entitlement (partially abolished by the Conservative government in 1996) by a workhouse-type asylum support scheme. Destitute asylum seekers were to be compulsorily dispersed out of London, put in hard-to-let accommodation and given benefits in kind, by way of board or vouchers. An unacceptable regime was presented as acceptable because temporary claimants would be out of the country, or recognised as refugees, and either way out of the asylum support scheme, in six months.
It was always obvious that the promise to decide asylum claims in an average of two months could not be carried out properly. It is inconsistent with the thorough and careful procedures needed to decide asylum claims. Claimants need time to obtain evidence, whether from political colleagues in exile elsewhere in the world, or medical evidence from doctors or from the Medical Foundation for the care of victims of Torture, which has a waiting list of months for a first appointment. It is even more impossible to meet the two-month timescale for decision when claimants are dispersed all over the country, to areas where immigration lawyers are unknown. Nevertheless, the government pressed ahead. Asylum claimants were greeted at the port with 19-page Statement of Evidence (SEF) forms to complete - in full, and in English - and return within 14 days before being sent off to Sunderland or Devon or Norwich. The result was massive “non-compliance”. If claimants managed to find a solicitor or law centre to help them, the first appointment was usually over a month away. Interpreters were impossibly hard to find, and the filling in of the form would often take two months. When solicitors tried to contact the Home Office to warn them of the situation, and of the fact that the form could not be returned in time, they simply could not get in touch - phones went unanswered, fax machines didn’t work and letters were ignored.
The Home Office would then summarily refuse the asylum claim after a month on the grounds that the form had not been returned in time, demonstrating the claimant’s unwillingness to “help establish the facts of the case”. Between September and November 2000, 38 percent of asylum refusals were for non-compliance - which meant the Home Office had not considered the substance of the claim at all. The first time such claims were considered was on appeal.
As more solicitors have been recruited to help asylum-seekers in the dispersal regions, and have become adept at getting the forms in in time, the non-compliance refusal rate should have dropped dramatically. But over a quarter of claims were still, in February 2001, refused on non-compliance grounds. But, as the Home Office acknowledges, many non-compliance refusals are now “defective” - t

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