Border Agency customer service 'shockingly poor'

The UK Border at Heathrow MPs continue to question the performance of the UK Border Agency

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Customer service at the UK Border Agency is "shockingly poor," the chief inspector of immigration has told MPs.

John Vine also gave the Home Affairs Committee a damning assessment of the agency's decision making, management, use of jargon and culture.

But he stopped short of calling it "not fit for purpose" - the phrase used by then Home Secretary John Reid in 2006.

Mr Vine's comments follow a report that found significant failings in the handling of unresolved asylum cases.

John Reid's description of the immigration directorate, the forerunner of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), as "not fit for purpose" after the mistaken release of thousands of foreign prisoners, led to a major shake-up of the system and the eventual splitting up of the Home Office into two different departments.

'Confusing'

Asked if Mr Reid's description still rang true six years later, Mr Vine said: "In some parts of the agency I see improvement. In this particular part of the agency, that I inspected, I was disappointed not to find the progress I expected to see."

He added: "The agency needs to set a new date for the conclusion of asylum legacy cases and stick to it. And in the meantime be as transparent as possible in informing you and members of the public about the actuality of the data."

He said "more can be done" to ensure legacy cases were treated as a priority by local immigration teams.

And it was "difficult to ascertain the rationale behind some of the decisions that were made" in the 6,000 cases where individuals had been granted leave to remain.

For example, there was no way of knowing, from the files, how many had criminal convictions, he told the committee.

Mr Vine painted a picture of an organisation in which one part, such as the enforcement arm, did not know what other parts, such as local immigration teams, were doing, and where files regularly went missing or got lost in the system.

This had led to mix-ups such as 2,000 asylum seekers being categorised as missing even though the individuals concerned had been reporting regularly to the authorities, the committee was told.

Mr Vine also criticised the agency's "confusing" use of jargon, acronyms and "imprecise" language, which he said made a complicated system "less easy to understand less transparent".

'Poor service'

In his latest report,, on the UKBA's handling of legacy asylum and migration cases, Mr Vine found a third of letters from lawyers and MPs were repeat requests for information about ongoing asylum cases.

"By any benchmark of a public sector organisation, that's a poor level of service," he said before adding that complaints handling in other parts of the UKBA he had inspected had been "equally poor".

He said 7% of UKBA files had gone missing and others had been duplicated and were "floating" around the system - but the biggest problem was the organisation's working culture.

"Workers in the agency don't see the people behind the files," he told the MPs.

Last month, Mr Vine accused the UKBA of supplying inaccurate information to MPs about the backlog of asylum cases and said Parliament had received incorrect assurances about progress.

Jonathan Sedgwick, the UKBA's director of international operations, apologised to the Home Affairs Committee for what he said was an "inadvertent" mistake.

He said the agency had always tried to give MPs accurate information on unresolved cases but there was a "necessary imprecision" about the figures because of the number of years over which they had accumulated.

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