Latest Home Office Decision Misery

by Gareth Lynn Montes

When he moved into 10 Downing Street, Rishi Sunak pledged to cut the asylum backlog. This is one of the few areas of asylum policy on which we agree with the Prime Minister, although we approach the issue from a different angle. Prompter, streamlined decision-making will remove the waiting and uncertainty, allowing sanctuary seekers to move on and build a life for themselves in the UK—one where they are allowed to work and choose where they live. We agree with cutting the asylum backlog, but we are concerned at the slapdash way in which this process is being carried out.

Recently, we have seen a trend emerging in our casework where some people in the asylum system are getting support discontinuation letters before they receive a negative asylum decision letter. This is how a negative decision process should work:

The applicant or their legal representative receives a letter notifying them that they have not been granted status. This letter can be a very long and detailed, as it explains the reasons for the decision. This letter also sets out the process and timelines for any appeal. If the deadline to lodge an appeal passes, the applicant receives a cessation of support letter, informing them when their Home Office accommodation and financial support will end.

Finally, the unsuccessful applicant receives a notice to quit letter, providing the date by which they are required to leave their Home Office-provided accommodation. Instead, we are currently seeing sanctuary seekers receiving cessation of support and notice to quit letters before they even know if their application to become a refugee was rejected or accepted.

Not only does this mean sanctuary seekers can suddenly find themselves destitute and homeless despite following the rules, but they risk losing their right to appeal a negative decision. As of March 2023, 51% of initial rejections were overturned by the Home Office on appeal. Support can be reinstated, but the applicant may not always be aware of this, or they may be hesitant to challenge the system without adequate support or legal representation.

In the last three months, we have supported seven individuals who have been in this situation. In most cases, the negative decision letter was sent to the wrong address or never reached the individual after being posted. In one case, the Home Office had not even sent the negative decision letter by the time the applicant received a cessation of support.

On behalf of these individuals, we immediately notified the Asylum Support Tribunal and the Home Office that support had been wrongly withdrawn. We then referred applicants to legal advice, so that they can lodge an appeal with the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. We also secure emergency cash payments. In six of the cases, we were able to get support reinstated and the individuals have begun their appeal process.

Although seven cases may seem like a small number, this issue is part of a wider problem. We have seen Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) containing wrong names, nationalities, dates of birth, and other errors. We have also seen cases where individuals have received the details of other people’s appeals at their phones or email addresses. Our biggest fear is that, in an election year, where cutting the asylum backlog is likely to be a platform promise, more blunders will be made in the pursuit of votes.

The impact these mistakes have on real people should not be underestimated. The asylum system is already a scary, stressful, intimidating process and mistakes accentuate these negative aspects. Cumulative administrative errors like these add yet more misery to the lives of those who have fled abuse, wars, and prosecution to make it to the UK. We desperately need a more humane, effective asylum system; one that treats people with dignity and respects its own rules and processes.


Case study

Samia and her partner are recent victims of Home Office bungling. To make matters worse for Samia and her partner, their legal representative lacked the required accreditation to properly challenge the decision. As a result, they both faced the frightening prospect of becoming homeless during in January. Working with our partners, we managed to obtain the original negative decision letter and get it to Samia and her partner. The letter details confirmed their right to appeal. After logging the case with the Asylum Support Tribunal, Samia and her partner’s support was reinstated.

With a new, qualified legal aid provider, Samia and her partner are now launching an appeal against their negative asylum decision. Both are hopeful that the worst is behind them. The last thing Samia and her partner needed was bureaucratic mistakes. Adding unnecessary stress to the already challenging experience of navigating the asylum system affected their well-being. Samia and her partner deserve better.