Asylum seeker backlog hits record as upkeep bill rises to £2.1bn a year

Various factors are behind the historic number of people awaiting decisions on their claims in Britain

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dover, Kent. PA
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A record number of asylum seekers in the UK are awaiting decisions on their claims as the backlog hit its highest ever level, the government is set to announce this week.

Driven by a surge in the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats, the number of outstanding claimants has passed 150,000 for the first time in more than 20 years.

The backlog has increased by 50,000 in only 12 months, from 100,564 in the year ending December 2021, official data to be released on Thursday will show.

This rise means the bill for housing asylum seekers, as well as their subsistence and other costs will reach a record £2.1 billion ($2.6 billion).

About £7 million a day is being spent on housing roughly 40,000 people in hotels.

Similar figures were last seen during the Tony Blair-era asylum crisis at the turn of the millennium, when comparable records began.

The latest pressure will increase pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman to stop the small boat crossings and cut the asylum backlog.

Migrants at immigration processing centre in Manston — in pictures

Getting a grip on the UK’s migrant crisis has been declared as one of Mr Sunak’s top priorities and he is expected next month to unveil proposed new laws to bar anyone entering the UK illegally from claiming asylum.

The Prime Minister has pledged to quadruple the number of asylum, caseworkers and boost staff productivity in a bid to clear the backlog of 92,601 asylum cases submitted before June 2022 by the end of this year.

The backlog is due to staff productivity “absolutely plummeting”, with each caseworker working on average one case each week, said Lord Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary.

“As John Reid said back in 2006, despite valiant efforts, the system was still not ‘fit for purpose’, but no one could have perceived the staggering situation that has arisen now,” he said.

Migrant crossings on the English Channel surge amid heatwave — in pictures

Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “The ballooning of the backlog is inevitable. With the rate of illegal Channel crossings already greater than it was in 2022 and the level of returns minimal, the numbers crossing will go on increasing.

“The only solution is to stop the illegal influx. What the government must not do is reduce the backlog by effectively declaring an amnesty in all but name. That would prove disastrous.”

Peter Walsh, senior researcher at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, said: “The asylum backlog has increased five-fold in the last four years.

“The result of this is that asylum seekers are now facing very long waits — on average, more than 18 months — for their claims to be assessed.”

It is now likely that up to 50,000 asylum seekers are waiting between one and three years for decisions and more than 10,000 three to five years, the Refugee Council said.

“These are men women and children who came to our country in search of safety but are condemned to years of waiting and worrying, unable to put down roots and rebuild their lives,” said Enver Solomon, its chief executive.

Migrant children rescued in French waters — in pictures

The number of asylum applications, which is a different measure to the number of applicants as there can be several applicants on each application, hit a record 125,100 in 1999. It is unknown how many applicants there were at this time as there is no data available.

It is “likely” the backlog of applications for the year to December 2022 would surpass the 125,100 mark, sources suggest.

The backlog stood at 117,000 in September last year. Since then, more than 12,700 migrants have reached the UK by crossing the Channel. This means the number of applicants is likely to be a similar record.

Does the UK have a migrant crisis? — video

Despite a 62 per cent increase in caseworkers from 2011 to 2021, decision-making rates decreased by the same amount in this period.

Staff on average have been processing about 18,000 applications a year.

On this basis, there will need to be a five-fold improvement in productivity to hit Mr Sunak’s target of clearing the 92,061 legacy-case asylum claims submitted by June 2022, when new rules were introduced by the Nationality and Borders Act.

“The government is taking immediate action to bring the asylum backlog down and has set out new plans to clear the initial asylum decision backlog of legacy cases by the end of this year,” a Home Office spokesman said.

“We have doubled the number of asylum caseworkers to more than 1,000 and we will double it again while rolling out a successful pilot scheme nationwide to boost the number of claims processed.”

Updated: February 22, 2023, 10:52 AM