Chaos, incompetence and bullying of Home Office employees is resulting in failed deportations and the unlawful detention of vulnerable and desperate people, whistleblowers allege.
The Dublin Cessation Team (DCT) – until last week known as the Third Country Unit – is a little-known but crucial department that, under the EU Dublin convention, determines which EU member state is responsible for considering an asylum claim and transferring the asylum seeker to the responsible state.
“Mistakes by overworked, under-skilled, bullied and highly stressed DCT caseworkers are directly and frequently leading to immigration detentions that are later proved to be unlawful,” claimed one source.
Whistleblowers also allege that:
Decisions on whether an applicant can stay in the UK, supposed to take six months, frequently take two years. During this time, applicants are in limbo, unable to work or rent property.
People who have sought asylum are frequently unlawfully detained for up to six weeks in immigration removal centres.
Personal performance targets indirectly encourage employees to reject applications without fully examining whether people have the right to remain in the UK.
People with a strong case to remain in the UK are deported because of poor decisions made by insufficiently trained staff.
Flights for deportations are frequently cancelled when asylum seekers protest on board and pilots refuse to fly.
“One of the main reasons the planned deportations don’t go ahead is because a poorly trained, overworked caseworker has gambled that an applicant with a history of kicking off on planes, won’t do it again, so doesn’t give them an escort,” a source claimed. “But then they do kick off and the deportation has to be abandoned.”
Use of escorts is erratic, the whistleblowers said.
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The sources also criticise personal performance targets given to the asylum team. These targets are so stringent, they believe, that employees feel indirectly incentivised to reject asylum applications.
Caseworkers are given 555 minutes to refuse an asylum application but just 222 minutes to grant one.
“Their justification is that a refusal takes longer to write but the reality is that a grant takes just as much time and effort,” argued one source.
“In one recent case, there were gaps and inconsistencies in an application and it would have been very easy to refuse it. The harder part is to dig around online and properly research why those inconsistencies are there. But that effort would eat into my stats and I would then get a black mark against my performance.”
Poor decisions are also made because insufficiently trained caseworkers are given sole responsibility to conduct interviews with asylum seekers, the whistleblowers claimed.
“These interviews are an asylum seeker’s only opportunity to give their account but if the interviewing officer is not sufficiently trained, how are they going to get that information out of such vulnerable people?” said one source. “The answer is, that they’re not.”
Caseworkers in the decisions team have a different personal performance target: they must score 13.5 points a day. A detention review must take no longer than 90 minutes and a human rights consideration claim no longer than three hours. Every half-hour contributes 0.5 points towards the caseworker’s target.
“You get substandard outcomes because we’re not able to physically consider a claim carefully in that time,” said one of the sources. “The reality is that you will rush it.”
Staff also complain that they are given “totally insufficient” training. They claim they are expected to carry out crucial detention and case progression reviews after just half an hour spent watching a standard level caseworker conduct an online review.
“When I joined the department, I was shadowing someone who had only joined a couple of weeks before me,” said a whistleblower. “They weren’t confident in what they were doing and weren’t able to answer my questions.
“Someone was told to shadow me when I’d been in my role for less than two months,” they added. “That made me very uncomfortable: I didn’t feel I had enough knowledge to train someone else.”
They allege that just 90 minutes additional training is given before a caseworker is told to make the life-changing decisions on whether an applicant should be deported.
“The training is entirely on how to refuse a human rights claim,” one of the sources claimed.
In at least one case, it has been alleged that internal training on conducting asylum interviews was done by an insufficiently qualified member of staff who had less expertise than the caseworkers they were training and who, before joining the Home Office the year previously, had no experience in the area.
Despite the relentless workloads and performance targets, the sources claim that senior managers frequently fail to sign off decisions made by caseworkers for up to two years.
“We’re supposed to interview applicants and give them a decision within six months of receiving their application,” said a source. “But it’s common to have to wait for two years for a senior case worker to sign off a decision.
The TCU was criticised in a report in 2015 by David Bolt, the chief inspector of borders and immigration.
The report found that in 2014 to 2015, the TCU made 2,014 formal requests to EU countries to take back an asylum applicant. Of these, just 62% requests were accepted.
Bolt criticised the TCU for failing to analyse why so many of their formal requests to other countries were unsuccessful and why their removals failed so often.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We value all of our staff who work tirelessly to keep the public safe, protect the UK border and ensure we have an effective immigration system. Any form of discrimination, bullying or harassment is totally unacceptable and we take urgent action where complaints are received or concerns are raised.
“Caseworkers dealing with asylum cases are given extensive training and mentoring to ensure they are able to deal with the complex issues they may encounter, and there are managers and senior caseworkers on hand should they need further advice or guidance.
“We do not comment on specific details of internal complaints.”
The claims come as the National Audit Office launches an investigation into the Home Office over its decision to accuse about 34,000 international students of cheating in English language tests.