The number of asylum seekers in the UK waiting more than six months for their case to be decided has sharply increased, a study has revealed, leaving many applicants in limbo for months or years.
Research from the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory found only 25 per cent of asylum claims were decided within six months in the last quarter of 2018, a fall from 80 per cent in 2014.
The analysis, drawn from Home Office transparency data, showed government decision-making on asylum cases “needs to be improved”, according to report author Peter Walsh.
He said there was “no single explanation” for the rising delays. The number of asylum seekers in the UK has not increased greatly in the past five years: as of June 2019 about 42,500 people were receiving government support while they waited for an asylum claim.
“Factors that could have played a role include changes to policy and management, the complexity of the cases the Home Office receives and, of course, budget constraints,” he said.
The Home Office scrapped a target of processing asylum claims within six months in August, arguing that it would instead focus on cases with “acute vulnerability”.
But refugee charities say long waits have a detrimental impact on vulnerable people, who are sometimes forced to wait for years for a decision about their future.
Even if their application is processed in six months, asylum seekers can spend much longer waiting for an outcome as the Home Office’s initial decision is often overturned on appeal.
The Migration Observatory report found that 55 per cent of asylum applications made between 2012 and 2016 had been accepted by 2019, although only 38 per cent were granted asylum in the Home Office’s initial decision.
Stephen Hale, director of Refugee Action, a charity that supports asylum seekers, said applicants were “living in limbo” on a government allowance of £5.39 a day while they waited for a decision from the Home Office.
“Far too many people seeking safety in Britain are forced to live in poverty and isolation while they wait for a decision on their asylum application,” he said.
Mr Hale called for an end to current rules that do not allow asylum seekers to work while they are waiting for a decision on their claim.
Estimates by Refugee Action found just under half of asylum applicants in 2017 waited longer than six months for their application to be processed, an increase of 25 per cent from the previous year.
The Migration Observatory analysis also showed the dispersal of asylum seekers, who are allocated housing and support in local authorities around the UK, to be highly unequal.
It found 20 local authorities, the vast majority in Scotland and the North of England, hosted as many asylum seekers as the remaining 362 combined.
While Glasgow City hosts 4,019 asylum seekers, 168 local authorities were not registered as hosting asylum seekers at all.