Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
60. We all want that! The CSA have had such
a wash of complaints from MPs and they know how to distinguish
which MPs pledge to prioritise and they get into a different layer.
I am not sure it is fair at all. I have done it myself, so I am
as guilty as the next person. There is a conspiracy here of passing
the buck, and I am not sure this is a good solution?
(Mr Boys Smith) I do not think I am in a position,
if I may say so, Chairman, to comment on the manner in which Ministers
seek to react to Members of Parliament. All I am saying is that
it has been a long practice over as long as I have been in public
service for those cases that an MP picks up with a Minister to
be pursued with additional vigour.
61. Let me ask you: is that fair?
(Mr Boys Smith) It is a fact, Chairman.
Chairman: I think we're getting into very dangerous
62. I'm from Great Yarmouth and we have a number
of asylum seekers within my area, as David does in Brighton, one
of my concerns is the same as David's which is the travelling
distance that they have to take and it costs substantially more
than if they had to travel to Croydon. I would say the case may
well be the same if people from Great Yarmouth had to travel the
longer distance. Has there ever been a cost benefit analysis in
relation to the cost of shipping the asylum seekers around the
country for appeals, rather than having them in different parts
of the country?
(Mr Boys Smith) Not in quite those terms. As I mentioned
earlier, the imperative has been to get the interviews done in
order that we can make the decision and deliver the decision to
the applicant and that will remain the case for the coming few
months. That said, we have opened offices elsewhere and are spreading
our interview base. I appreciate that, in saying that, I am referring
particularly to Liverpool and Leeds which indeed are perhaps causing
the problems as people in your constituency see them. Nevertheless,
with the dispersal arrangements under the National Asylum Support
Service, which is part of IND, of course there will be increasing
numbers of people in the North-West, indeed the North-East as
well, for which Leeds and Liverpool will be attractive locations
as regards interviews in a way that Croydon would not be. So we
have quite deliberately located interview facilities there in
order to capture the new dispersal system.
63. In relation to your figures, you say in
2000 the backlog was 100,000, this March 36,000, in July you are
hoping to get down to 20,000, on those particular figures when
would we expect to see a figure of a nil backlog?
(Mr Boys Smith) Can I just clarify the figures, the
first two you gave, the 100,000 for early 2000 and the 36,000
for the end of March, they were the asylum backlog. The 20,000
that I mentioned was for the after entry work, the non-asylum,
non-nationality work, which is what we hope to come down to on
that side by mid-July. Just to take asylum, the backlog is still
falling. We do not have the April figures yet, but that indeed
has fallen during the course of April. I have to acknowledge that
we are not clear at the moment, because it is a very long time
since we have been in this position, we do not quite know yet
what the so-called frictional level will be for any given intake
of asylum application. Our average turn-around time, and we are
meeting that already and will beat it shortly, is two months.
At an intake of 5,000 to 6,000, that automatically means you are
going to have 10,000 or 12,000 cases in the system. In addition
to that, there are always a number that are held up quite properly
for some reason. I do not mean held up in a heap that nobody has
looked at, but they may be queuing up under a judicial review
case, they may have intrinsic difficulties, there may need to
be re-interviews because factors have arisen, a number of things
of that kind, which will take the working number, the number properly
in the system, rather higher. That figure we think will settle
at between 20,000 and 30,000, though, as I say, we cannot be specific
at the moment. It will settle there on the basis of our achieving
our target of 60 per cent being dealt with and having their initial
decision within two months.
64. How many of that backlog would you consider
have probably disappeared? There was a very embarrassing situation
two years ago when about 20 asylum seekers were sent to hotels
in Great Yarmouth and only two arrived. The other 18 got off at
some other station on the way through. It was a view held that
at some they are going to turn up. Is this a particular problem?
(Mr Boys Smith) Undoubtedly it is a problem. A number
of asylum applicants at some time point during the system, either
before the initial decision or later, go to ground, and indeed
undoubtedly a number enter the country through the asylum route
intending to do that, which is not to suggest of course that everybody
uses that route for that purpose. It is because of that concern
that part of the investment that I referred to a moment ago is
to go into this greatly enhanced enforcement and removals effort,
targets for removal of failed asylum seekers, in order to cut
that number down. We will be increasing the number of removals
with more detention, more staff, and so on, during the course
of the current year.
65. Just on that point, what percentage get
(Mr Boys Smith) I cannot tell you, not because I have
not brought the right figure, Chairman, but because we do not
know what percentage disappear. The size of the illegal population
in the United Kingdom is, and always has been, unknown. It is
something that we are now working on in order to try to fill that
gap in our knowledge, but there is a gap.
66. I understand you do not know everything,
but you know the numbers that first come into your hands and you
know the numbers that you lose along the wayside?
(Mr Boys Smith) What we do not know is the number
who leave the country voluntarily. That is the missing link in
the equation, so to speak. A number undoubtedly do leave the country
voluntarily, possibly to go and claim asylum elsewhere, having
found themselves failing to obtain that status here. That is the
great difficulty, because we have no embarkation control.
67. Presumably they would still be recognised
as one of the backlog cases?
(Mr Boys Smith) There may well be some people in the
backlog who are no longer in the country, cases where perhaps
they have been interviewed. It was the case when we had that huge
backlog. There were cases that had been interviewed many, many
months before on whom a decision had not been taken. Some of those
people might well have left the country. We have no means of telling
if they decided to leave voluntarily, because, as we all know,
you leave the UK without any form of check.
68. You must know the number of people who have
got lost along the way irrespective of whether they have left
the country or not. What percentage do not turn up again?
(Mr Boys Smith) I do not have to hand the number,
the figure, for example, of people who do not turn up for an interview,
though we can happily obtain that and give it to the Committee.
I fear that is not in my head. When you say we must know the number
who do not turn up, we know the number who apply and we know the
number of decisions we take. We do not know, and no Government
has ever known, the number of people who may have left the country
during the course of that process or after that process, whether
or not their claim was granted. There is nothing new in that.
69. What is the percentage of the number of
cases which are determined compared to the number of people who
enter the system?
(Mr Boys Smith) Well, the number we actually removethat
is to say escort out of the country in some way or other, or at
least see on the planeis very small. We removed about 9,000
people, failed asylum seekers, last year, which is a higher figure
than on any previous year. We have a target for removing 30,000.
70. If 100,000 people come in and you know that
they have entered the system, how many of them do not get their
cases determined because they have vanished over a year?
(Mr Boys Smith) What I am trying to say, Mr Trend,
is we cannot tell if they have vanished.
71. They have disappeared from the system?
(Mr Boys Smith) Well
72. Just that you lose contact with?
(Mr Boys Smith) I am sure we can give you a figure
or an approximate figure for those we lose contact with. What
I am trying to explain is that if they have been interviewed and
their papers are on the file we will not then subsequently know
if, for example, a lettereither a refusal or an acceptancefails
to be received because they have left the country. That is all
I am saying. There is nothing new about that.
73. It would be helpful and I think in the public
interest if we were to find exactly how many you do lost contact
with, for whatever reason, accepting what you have said to us.
Would you be able to provide that?
(Mr Boys Smith) I think it would be a very approximate
figure, but we will do our best.
74. A couple of quick questions. Could you tell
us why such a backlog had built up and what you think the position
would be now, had you not undertaken the reorganisation and been
given the additional resources that you have?
(Mr Boys Smith) It had been built up for a number
of reasons. The organisation was under-resourced. In particular,
in the last few years, a number of assumptions were made about
efficiencies that might have been delivered by the computer system,
of which there was much public discussion, the computer system
that has not arrived. That was so in terms particularly of experienced
resource; just having people is not enough. We need people to
know the job. The numbers had actually declined of experienced
people. That, together with the upheaval of the organisationI
am very anxious Mr Buckley does not think I am trying to blame
former colleagues, because I am not. That was the real reason.
If we had not taken the measures, the resourcing, the reorganisation
that we have gone through and all the process changes that I mentionedto
do some very quick mental arithmeticinstead of having a
backlog of 30,000, if we had managed to do the same number of
decisions that we did in 1999/2000, we would have a backlog of
150,000. I would rather not be held to my mental arithmetic too
precisely. I could calculate it better with a little more time,
if I may, if it really needs it.
75. That is fine, it is a broad brush figure
that I was interested in. One other issue which was raised by
the Ombudsman and that is when the Ombudsman finds in favour of
a case you do not pay the loss of benefit and he has criticised
you for that. I would agree with his criticism. What would your
(Mr Boys Smith) It is the position that Ministers
have taken, that loss of benefit, I have to say for the reasons
that Mr Buckley himself outlined, that is the view that Ministers
have taken. It is not a loss of benefit. Whilst people are in
the asylum application process, if they are destitute in the terms
of the Act they are entitled to receive benefit under the new
arrangements, albeit I appreciate not quite the same. The position
on benefit of course is very complicated with the changeover from
the old to the new, but people can obtain support if they want
while they are applicants, including of course whilst they are
going through appeals if they decide to make an appeal.
76. I appreciate that, but the amount of money
they would get had their appeal been properly dealt with would
have been greater than they did get, and there is no making up
of that difference. I have to say I think that is wrong. If it
was in another area then there would be no question but that the
difference would be made up.
(Mr Boys Smith) I do not wish to weave in front of
the Committee. That is the position that Ministers have taken
as the policy that should be followed. I appreciate that there
is room for debate about it, and indeed there is from time to
77. I can understand that one might argue for
integration of policy. Is it an area you can give us your view
(Mr Boys Smith) I think I would do so with some difficulty,
in the sense that that is the policy that Ministers have adopted.
I am the servant of Ministers, Chairman. If it is the wrong policy,
I am not the person to sit here and say I think it is the wrong
Chairman: We are going to stop now. Thank you
very much indeed for coming along. There is a virtue in having
you back from time to time because we can see how things are going.
I think we are grateful to hear about improvements that are being
made, and you will not mind if we continue to look at your work
to make sure this continues, serviced as ever by the Ombudsman
who I hope will not see too much business from you.