The Chief Inspector releases his Inspection Plan for the next three years.

The ICIBI Inspection Plan 2016/17 – 2018/19

In previous years, the ICI has published an annual Plan that, typically, has identified a certain number of ‘announced’ inspections and made a commitment to completing a further number of ‘unannounced’ inspections. The latter provided a degree of flexibility to deal with topics that might become of interest during the year.

Instead, I have produced a three-year Plan, the aim of which is to provide a better sense of the overall shape and range of the ICIBI’s inspection programme, how the planned inspections fit together thematically, and when particular topics will be examined. It reflects my predecessor’s valedictory observations and my own priorities after almost a year in post, plus the inputs I have had from the Home Office and from a wide spread of stakeholders, for which I am grateful. It is based on certain assumptions, a key one being that the resources available to me remain broadly constant throughout the period.

Flexibility remains important, not least because of the extent and pace of change in this area, and the legislation that created the Inspectorate allows me to deviate from my published Plan where necessary.  So, while I expect to complete Year 1 (2016/17) of the Plan largely as it is set out, I intend to revisit Years 2 and 3 at the end of 2016/17 and will adjust them if this is required.

During 2015/16, I revised the ICIBI’s inspection process and shortened significantly the time taken between starting an inspection and delivering the report to the Home Secretary.  However, as before, our method is to gather and test a sufficient body of evidence, including through a structured review of case files, to support our findings and recommendations for improvement, and this cannot be rushed.

Under the new process, standard inspections will take 20 weeks, although some inspections will be shorter. The Home Secretary has committed to lay my inspection reports before Parliament within eight weeks of receiving them.  The relevance of this to the Plan is that while the listed inspections may begin and report within a particular business year, publication may carry over into the next business year.

Finally, the Plan includes a new type of inspection.  In order to test that improvements the Home Office has undertaken to make have indeed been made, with effect from 2016/17 I intend each year to carry out a number of re-inspections of accepted recommendations from previous reports.  This will also enable me to gauge whether our inspections are having the necessary impact and will help to improve the ICIBI’s own efficiency and effectiveness.
DB Sig
David Bolt
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

An Inspection of Home Office Outsourced Contracts for Escorted and Non-Escorted Removals and Cedars Pre-Departure Accommodation July – November 2015

Foreword and Key Findings.

The Home Office has outsourced a number of its borders and immigration functions to private contractors. The effectiveness and efficiency of such functions, and the Home Office’s management of the relevant commercial contracts, fall within the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s statutory remit. As such, it is right that they should be subject to inspection in the same way and with the same rigour as borders and immigration functions delivered entirely from within the Home Office.

The public sector’s use of private contractors is of abiding interest to many people. There is a reasonable expectation that where functions have been outsourced they are being delivered to a high standard in terms of quality, consistency and value, and that this can be demonstrated.

With these points in mind, this inspection examined three areas of Immigration Enforcement’s (IE) business that had been outsourced, each contributing to the enforced removal from the UK of migrants with no right to remain. Two of these are part of the same process: the escorting of migrants to the country to which they are being returned; and the provision of travel tickets for escorts and returnees, including those returned unescorted. The third concerns Cedars, the Pre-Departure Accommodation (PDA) opened in 2011 for families with children under the age of 18 subject to enforced removal.

In 2013, the Cabinet Office had identified how the management of commercial contracts across the Civil Service needed to improve, and the inspection found that the Home Office had made the recommended improvements, including introducing formal senior oversight of major contracts, recruiting staff with commercial expertise and changing contract monitoring to involve both operational and commercial managers. An external review commissioned by the Home Office in 2014 had pointed to other areas that needed to be addressed, such as an over-reliance on contractor data and contractors’ self-reporting on performance. The inspection found that this remained an issue.

All the contracts inspected pre-date 2013. Over their life, the contractors and the Home Office had identified elements of the contracts that did not work for them and proposed various adjustments. Where accepted, these were pragmatic and struck a balance between the interests of the contractor and those of the Home Office. However, the parties were generally slow to resolve their issues and reach agreement. The Home Office must learn from experience when agreeing the terms of any new contracts in this area, in particular with regard to performance standards, and must move more swiftly when delivery is not meeting operational needs.

The report makes eight recommendations:

  1. In order to reduce the logistical difficulties and additional costs created by late changes to escorted removals, work with Tascor to improve the usefulness of the Electronic Request Form (ERF) for risk assessing escorted removals and allocating escorts, and consider what of the additional information provided at the 72 hour point could be provided earlier.
  2. Regularly review by business area and/or removal category the percentage of, and reasons for, cancelled or failed removals, including those deemed ‘out of [Home Office] control’, and set a common threshold, and develop guidance for caseworkers, for when to request refundable tickets.
  3. Put in place (and monitor) a process that ensures that where travel tickets have been purchased for an unescorted or escorted removal and the removal is cancelled or fails:
  • the caseworker updates the Case Information Database (CID) and alerts the travel services contractor at the earliest opportunity (so that the contractor can seek the maximum possible refund);
  • escorts deployed out of hours and at week-ends alert the travel services contractor at the earliest opportunity, and the escorting contractor confirms to the caseworker that this has been done.
  1. Given the co-dependencies of the escorting and travel services contracts, consider re-designating the latter ‘Tier 1’ and reviewing both together at senior level, where relevant applying the lessons from Moore Stephens and other reviews to both.
  2. Having relaxed the current performance regime and reduced Tascor’s losses for the remainder of the current escorting contract, press Tascor to deliver as required in relation to the ‘significant efficiency improvements’ to the removals process envisaged in the Joint Business Plan.
  3. Conduct a detailed analysis of the operational and financial impacts of delays between the date requested for a removal and the date when escorts are made available, using the results to improve the effectiveness of current processes and to inform future performance measures, including financial deductions (‘service credits’).
  4. In designing the performance regime for the new escorting and travel services contract(s), ensure that:
  • KPIs focus on outcomes, striking a balance between operational delivery and costs (including refunds) and do not distort performance by an over-emphasis on certain activities (e.g. In-Country Escorting (ICE) movements);
  • the number of KPIs is manageable for all parties;
  • performance data can be monitored and validated independently (where necessary through Home Office direct access to contractors’ systems and full data sharing); and
  • any deductions (e.g. ‘service credits’) and conditions (e.g. sliding scales, caps) are correctly applied and used to incentivise continuous improvement and, where appropriate, collaboration between contractors.
  1. Conduct a fundamental review of the requirement for Pre-Departure Accommodation for families with children under the age of 18, with a view to providing facilities, including welfare and other essential support, that are appropriate in scale, nature and cost to the projected demand for and proven value of such accommodation.

The report was sent to the Home Secretary on 2 February 2016.

Full Report – An Inspection of Home Office Outsourced Contracts for Escorted and Non-Escorted Removals and Cedars Pre-Departure Accommodation July – November 2015

The Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report on Outsourced Contracts.

David Bolt,
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

A Short Notice Inspection of the Tier 4 Curtailment Process July – September 2015

Foreword and Key Findings.

Individuals who wish to come to the UK for study purposes and require a visa apply to the Home Office under Tier 4 of the Points-based System (PBS). To qualify for a ‘student visa’, the individual must produce a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) form from an educational establishment licensed by the Home Office to act as a sponsor.

Under the terms of their licence, Tier 4 sponsors must notify the Home Office of any changes in a student’s circumstances that would affect their sponsorship, for example, failure to enrol on their course, a pattern of unauthorised absences, withdrawal or expulsion, or early completion of their studies. Once notified, the Home Office considers the case and decides whether to curtail the student’s leave to remain in the UK (or cancel their leave to enter).

In 2014/15, the Home Office issued over 60,000 Tier 4 visas, a reduction of roughly 25,000 from the previous year, which the Home Office attributed to the tightening up (from October 2014) of the Tier 4 visa entry route to make it less prone to abuse. In each of the last two years (2013/14 and 2014/15) it received 86,000 notifications from Tier 4 sponsors, and over the two years it curtailed the leave previously granted to almost 44,000 students.

This inspection considered the efficiency and effectiveness of the Home Office’s management of the Tier 4 curtailment process, examining how it handled notifications from sponsors, the checking of these cases, decision-making and subsequent actions. It found that the creation of a dedicated Curtailment Team had resulted in significant progress in reducing the large volume of outstanding notifications that had built up by 2012, and that the Home Office was largely on top of new notifications. Security checks were carried out consistently and thoroughly, and a Decision Quality Framework had been introduced (in October 2014) that set clear expectations of caseworkers and monitored and measured performance.

However, the inspection also identified a number of areas for improvement. These included providing direct feedback to sponsors to clarify their reporting obligations and reduce the high levels of unnecessary notifications, and the time taken to progress notifications to the point where a consideration of curtailment was made.

Of most concern were ‘curtailment not pursued’ (CNP) cases, which included those who had a period of leave remaining that was shorter than the time they would be permitted to ‘wrap up’ their stay and depart, plus those who had already overstayed.

There was no process in place to monitor CNP cases to ensure that individuals with no right to remain in the UK had in fact departed voluntarily or, where necessary, had been identified for enforcement action. In the two years to April 2015, the Home Office made 71,601 CNP decisions. Many of these individuals might have departed the UK, or might have been granted leave to remain on other grounds. However, the true position, including the number and whereabouts of those who have remained in the UK illegally was not known.

The report makes 9 recommendations:

  1. Find a workable solution to providing Tier 4 licensed sponsors with direct feedback on the quality of their SMS notifications, with a view to achieving a significant reduction in the number of unnecessary notifications submitted each year.
  2. Maintain a record of the quality assurance of the sifting process for SMS notifications in order to evidence its effectiveness in ensuring that cases are not being incorrectly sifted ‘out’ as not requiring consideration for curtailment or any other action.
  3. Ensure that the assurance regime for Tier 4 curtailment covers the correct application by caseworkers of all relevant Immigration Rules and Home Office guidance (including the UKVI Operating Mandate), and that it informs the training and individual feedback provided to caseworkers;
  4. Publish service standards for the curtailment consideration process that:
  • take account of the 10-day deadline imposed on licensed sponsors for the submission of SMS notifications; and
  • drive the efficient use of resources.
  1. Issue clear instructions to caseworkers in relation to the closing of cases, and the referral of cases to issuing Entry Clearance Officers for cancellation, based on Advance Passenger Information (API) indicating that a Tier 4 student has departed the UK, or the absence of an API record of an individual in possession of a Tier 4 visa having entered the UK, and ensure that instructions are followed consistently.
  2. Treat cases that attract a curtailment not pursued (CNP) decision because the individual is an overstayer, or has a period of leave remaining that is shorter than their permitted period of grace and curtailment would have no practical effect, in the same way as curtailed cases.
  3. Take the necessary steps to identify and locate those individuals amongst the c.71,000 curtailment not pursued (CNP) cases decided between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2015 who have remained in the UK illegally, with a view to effecting their removal.
  4. Review the flow of cases referred to Capita to eliminate cases bouncing back as unworkable, including those that should have been closed based on Advance Passenger Information (API) and those curtailed cases where the period of grace has not expired when referred.
  5. Review whether the priority currently given to Tier 4 curtailed cases within the Immigration Enforcement national prioritisation matrix is appropriate.

The report was sent to the Home Secretary on 8 January 2016.

Full Report – A Short Notice Inspection of the Tier 4 Curtailment Process July – September 2015

The Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report on Tier 4 Curtailment.

David Bolt,
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

An Inspection of the Handling of Complaints and MPs’ Correspondence July – September 2015

Foreword and Key Findings.

How well a public body handles complaints about the service it provides, or about the conduct of its staff, is rightly regarded as being a key measure of its performance, as well as having a significant impact on public perceptions of its work. Good complaint handling requires organisation, effort and commitment from management.

In 2009, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) published Principles of Good Complaint Handling, which identified six key principles to help public bodies deliver first-class complaint handling to their customers. These included being customer-focused, being open and accountable, acting fairly and proportionately, and putting things right.The UK Borders Act 2007 sets out that the Independent Chief Inspector shall consider and make recommendations regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of the handling of complaints in respect of immigration and customs functions for which the Home Secretary is responsible.

This inspection examined the efficiency and effectiveness of the handling of complaints and MPs correspondence by Border Force, UK Visas and Immigration and Immigration Enforcement. In doing so, it relied heavily on the PHSO’s six principles as the most appropriate benchmark for assessing the Home Office’s performance.

The inspection found evidence of good practice, in particular the ‘clear and simple’ procedures for making complaints, which were accessible through Home Office websites and in leaflets and posters, and the proactive and personalised service provided to MPs, which had improved the quality and timeliness of responses significantly since this area was inspected in 2010.

However, the inspection also found areas where there was considerable room for improvement, specifically regarding inconsistent guidance for complaint handlers, poor record-keeping, including tracking of complaints to ensure that they receive a satisfactory and timely response, and failure to pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry in respect of minor misconduct complaints. These findings echoed a report issued by the PHSO in November 2015, based on its investigation of 158 complaints from 2014/15, which referred to the Home Office’s poor complaint handling, citing delays, poor decision-making and not doing enough to put things right and learn from mistakes.

This report makes eight recommendations for improvement:

  1. Conduct a fundamental review of current guidance in relation to complaints handling and ensure that guidance is concise, unambiguous and practical, covering as a minimum:

    – For customer-facing staff: the recording and reporting requirements for locally resolved complaints, for unresolved complaints and for complaints about other business areas.

    – For staff responding to written complaints about minor misconduct and service: the details to be included in the response regarding whether or not the complaint is upheld, what further steps (if any) will be taken and the option of requesting a review if not satisfied.

    – For staff responsible for maintaining the record of complaints: what needs to be recorded regarding whether or not the complaint is upheld, and the actions that have or will be taken and by whom.
  2. Put in place sufficient management and/or quality assurance checks to ensure that guidance is being applied as intended, that the investigation of complaints is thorough and impartial, that responses deal with the substance of the complaint, and that remedies are appropriate.
  3. Ensure that, where requested, the response to a request for a review of the handling of a complaint notifies the complainant of their options should they remain dissatisfied.
  4. Review the stated aim to respond to all complaints within 20 working days and either take steps to ensure that it is achieved in 95% of cases, in line with the published service standard, or revise it to provide complainants with a realistic timescale for a response.
  5. Ensure that complaints are acknowledged in line with guidance and, where it is likely that the 20 working day target for a substantive response will not be met, that complainants are notified and provided with regular updates until provided with a substantive response.
  6. Ensure that the Complaints Management System (CMS) is used to track the full history of a complaint from receipt to resolution, keeping the CMS record open until a substantive response has been provided to the complainant, recording accurately the details of any investigation and its findings, and retaining a copy of the original complaint and the response on the system.
  7. Ensure that a thorough and fair investigation is conducted of all minor misconduct complaints, taking all reasonable steps, including checks against Home Office systems and records, to identify the subject of the complaint where this is in doubt.
  8. In order to ensure compliance with guidance, greater consistency, and better quality assurance, retain ownership of complaints and responsibility for providing a substantive response within an appropriately resourced, dedicated correspondence team, which is empowered to require contributions from the relevant business area where necessary.

The finished report was sent to the Home Secretary on 7 January 2016.

David Bolt
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

The Independent Advisory Group on Country Information invites tenders to evaluate the UK Home Office Country Information Products on Nigeria, Iran and Ukraine.

The Independent Advisory Group on Country Information (IAGCI) is part of the Office of the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. The groups latest tenders are to review the Home Office’s Country of Origin Information on Nigeria, Iran and Ukraine.

Details for each tender can be found via the links below. Applicants will be required to submit a one page letter demonstrating their expertise in human rights and/or asylum issues pertaining to the particular country and a C.V. Applications should be emailed to the IAGCI chair Dr Laura Hammond to arrive by 29 February 2016.