22 September 2010

Changing the Culture of Disbelief at the UK Border Agency

One of the most thought-provoking fringe events I attended at Lib Dem conference was on asylum policy. Hosted by my new favourite MP Julian Huppert, it featured passionate experts from the UNHCR and Refugee Council, along with Tom Brake, a prominent backbench Lib Dem MP on justice and equality issues.

A real problem arose from the discussion about the culture of mistrust at the UK Border Agency regarding asylum applications. At the moment, the UKBA staff assessing asylum claims have a habit of using any minor doubts over the validity of a claim to reject it and let the courts decide if the claimant wishes to appeal the decision.

This leads to a huge number of initial claims being made in error. A third of rejected cases are overturned on appeal. This is inefficient, expensive and creates huge anxiety for the asylum seeker, whose fate is left in legal limbo often for years.

The question floated at fringe was how do we change this culture? Here's my suggestion: Pay UKBA staff a bonus which they get to keep whilst they make correct initial decisions. But for every incorrect decision they make (when the courts overturn an initial decision), deductions are made from the bonus.

This would mean it is now in the financial interest of UKBA assessors to not waste court time and money by getting the decision right first time. It should also ensure that staff take a more sympathetic approach to dealing with asylum cases.

I managed to catch up with Tom Brake and his well-informed researcher later. I was informed UKBA staff are currently incentivised to get cases closed within six months, whatever the outcome. The coalition has come out against these kinds of arbitrary targets set by the Labour government, which do little to ensure the best quality services are provided for each individual's circumstances.

Changing these incentives to get more decisions right first time would be fairer to asylum seekers and save the taxpayer money. Win!

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