Right-wing press parrott Damian Green on asylum inefficiency

The right-wing press have parroted Damian Green's misleading claims about the asylum seeker system. But the figures reveal that staff are clearing the backlog.

The right-wing press have blindly parroted Damian Green’s misleading claims about the efficiency of the asylum seeker system. A spate of stories today highlight the £28 million cost of providing legal advice to asylum seekers but the figures imply that staff are clearing the backlog. Refugee Council Chief Executive, Donna Covey, told Left Foot Forward that asylum seekers “have no choice but to rely on publicly funded legal advice.”

A Conservative Party press release yesterday, copied almost verbatim by The Sun, Daily Mail, and Daily Telegraph (see below) details how the legal aid bill for the 46,628 “asylum matters” funded by the Legal Services Commission last year – at an average cost of £610 – came to £28 million. The papers do not detail that this has been stable for the last few years or that the total number of asylum applications fell was 24 per cent lower in Q3 2009 compared with Q3 2008.

Home Office figures (Table 2a) show that the total number of asylum applications over the same period were just 27,670. This implies that the legal system are processing 169 per cent the number of applications. This apparent efficiency is somewhat at odds with Damian Green’s statement that:

“There are still hundreds of thousands of asylum cases that have been hanging around for years. This involves a huge cost to the taxpayer, as well as being unfair to those involved. A quick, efficient system would be a real benefit, but Ministers have failed to deliver this despite twelve years of trying.”

The Telegraph inaccurately claim that “Every asylum seeker is entitled to the free legal support”. All applications are means tested as Covey explained to Left Foot Forward:

“Access to legal aid is already tightly controlled and lawyers must show that a case is likely to succeed if they are using public money for appeals.

“The best way for the government to reduce the number of legal challenges is to focus on getting decisions right from the start. The number of decisions that are currently overturned at appeal proves that this does not always happen. Yet these are life or death decisions for asylum seekers. Many of these people have come to the UK to escape torture, persecution and human rights abuses in their own country, so surely it is not too much to ask for them to receive a fair hearing while they are here?”

If asylum seekers appeal they face a much more stringent ‘merits test’ where they are expected to have a 50 per cent chance of succeeding to qualify for funding. This is a major area of concern to the Refugee Council as legal representatives have a strong incentive to refuse funding on any but the strongest of cases in order to maintain a high success rate.

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