The number of people awaiting asylum claims has reached more than 140,000, new figures show as Labor said the decision-making system had “collapsed”.
Applications are at their highest level ever – up by over 20,000 in the last three months alone and three times higher than at the same time in 2019.
With increasing pressure on hotels and processing centres, critics have said the Home Office needs an “urgent overhaul” after a sharp drop in the number of applications processed despite a surge in Channel crossings.
The figures show that the proportion of asylum applications approved is 77 percent, the highest in 32 years, but the vast majority of small-boat migrants have not been accounted for.
Some Channel migrants have been awaiting a decision since 2018, but ministers have stepped up attempts to declare them ‘ineligible’ for testing because they have transited through France.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, accused the government of “mismanaging the immigration and asylum system”.
“Asylum decisions have collapsed – only 2 percent of people who arrived in small boats in the last year had their cases decided,” she added.
“They have no real grip or control, they just reinforce rhetoric instead of putting in place sensible policies.”
The Law Society of England and Wales said the Home Office needed an “urgent overhaul” to hire more decision-makers and give them “retention allowances” of £1,500-2,500 to stay in their posts.
Deputy Vice-President Richard Atkinson said: “Far too many people are waiting far too long for a decision on their application for protection in the UK.
“There is also still a problem with the quality of the Home Office’s decision-making – 52 per cent of decisions were overturned when appealed.
Of the small proportion of asylum applications considered, 77 percent were approved in the year to September – the highest proportion since 1990.
Home Office officials say the rate will fall as more cases are sought to be processed, as high-risk individuals, children and “high-damage cases” who are more likely to be successful have been prioritized.
The Home Office has a legal obligation not to leave asylum seekers penniless while they await a decision, meaning the backlog fuels chaotic attempts to find hotel places due to a lack of adequate accommodation.
Around 40,000 asylum seekers are currently being housed in hotels, as are more than 9,000 Afghans who were evacuated or resettled after the Taliban takeover last August.
A young woman who fled to Kabul Airport with only her laptop and phone and was put on a flight hours before an IS suicide bombing that killed nearly 200 people, lived with her sister in a hotel room for 14 months.
“Initially they said it would take six months and ‘then we’ll give you a house wherever you want to live,’ then they said, ‘we have to get you where we can find houses,'” she said pleasemynews. “Now they say, ‘You have to find a home.'”
The university student, in her 20s, eventually contacted a local council directly and secured a flat for her family this month after describing her situation.
She said it was “difficult” and depressing living in the hotel, where she struggled to sleep because of the noise, and said there was “a lot of trauma” among refugees trying to access mental health services .
“I was expecting a very imaginary life of having a home of my own right away,” she added. “I know people who have moved to four or five different hotels.”
Professor Louise Ryan, who has been researching Afghan refugee experiences with London Metropolitan University, said the government’s “fast pace” in finding accommodation has resulted in a “monumental waste of money” on hotels.
“An artificial distinction is being made between the Afghans arriving on small boats and those being evacuated from Kabul airport,” she said pleasemynews.