Dear Home Secretary,
RE: Remedying the ‘Asylum Questionnaire’
We write as concerned organisations and individuals supporting and representing individuals seeking
asylum in the United Kingdom and their interests.
We welcome the Government’s recognition that there is an urgent need to clear the backlog of
undecided asylum claims. Too many people are waiting unacceptable lengths of time for a decision,
leaving them unable to rebuild their lives, to be granted permission to work, and to reunite with their
families, while all too frequently being left to languish in inappropriate contingency accommodation. We
are pleased that the Government recognises this to be an issue and is willing to take action to conclude
manifestly well-founded claims more efficiently. However, we believe the Government’s approach to
doing so is fundamentally flawed.
As accepted by the Government, the countries specified for inclusion, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria
and Yemen, have high grant rates of over 95%. The aim should be for the Government to obtain only the
information it needs in the questionnaire to make a quick positive decision to grant refugee status.
We are dismayed that the new ‘Streamlined Asylum Process’ and the ‘Asylum Questionnaire’ upon which
it relies have been introduced without stakeholder consultation and engagement, in a manner contrary
to Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned Review Recommendations.
The essence of the problem is the false assumption that a person seeking asylum, who may not be
literate in English or at all, who may may be experiencing mental health problems or trauma, who may
not have mental capacity, and who may be homeless, will be able to receive and complete this long,
complex, and poorly drafted questionnaire without legal representation. It is essential that people who
need it are able to access legal representation before being required to return this questionnaire. The
Home Office has imposed short deadlines for responding – they are too short for a person who is
unrepresented to find a legal representative and give sufficient instructions to respond to the form. A
poorly completed questionnaire will only result in the Home Office needing to seek more information or
conduct interviews, defeating the aim of this policy: to make decisions swiftly without a substantive
Individuals seeking asylum should be informed, in the policy, the questionnaire, and any information
provided, that if they wish to have access to legal advice in order to complete and return the
questionnaire, they are permitted to do so and will be given the time they need to do so. This is to
ensure that individuals are able to meaningfully participate in the decision-making process, and that
decisions are made fairly and in accordance with the Refugee Convention, the procedural fairness
guarantees inherent in the European Convention on Human Rights, and the constitutional right of access
Failure to complete the questionnaire places an individual at risk of their pending asylum claim being
treated as withdrawn, losing their asylum support, being subjected to the hostile environment, and
being considered inadmissible or a ‘Group 2 refugee’ in any future asylum claim. This proposed plan of
withdrawing claims will only give the appearance of reducing the backlog, whilst in fact adding to the
backlog of fresh asylum claims being made.
We urge the Government to rethink its plan and to remedy it.
The system of legal representation for those seeking asylum is already at breaking point. Legal
representatives are over-stretched. There is an extreme shortage in capacity. Many individuals making
asylum and human rights claims are without any legal aid representation. The Government must take
urgent action to make immigration legal aid sustainable and address advice deserts, including by
urgently increasing legal aid fees.
Due to the crisis in immigration legal aid, there are simply not enough immigration legal aid
representatives to assist 12,000 individuals who must complete their questionnaires within short
timeframes, or face the grave repercussions of their claim being withdrawn. No statistics have been
published regarding the number of individuals in this cohort or the further 70,000 pending asylum claims
made before 28 June 2022 who are presently without legal representation.
Appropriately qualified legal practitioners in the third sector, who are not legal aid funded, are unlikely to
have the time, capacity or the funds to complete these questionnaires outside of the scope of legal aid.
These organisations are not funded for the thousands of hours of interpretation that would be required
to take instructions, advise, and complete these questionnaires in English.
The Government has said ‘local refugee organisations’ might be able to assist, or that a ‘friend who does
understand English can also assist’. Individuals who are not appropriately qualified but provide
immigration advice are at risk of committing a criminal offence. We understand that the OISC’s position
is that persons who are not regulated to the required level can offer assistance related to language
issues, the technicalities of completing and submitting the forms, and requests for time extensions, so
long as it does ‘not stray into giving immigration or asylum advice’. However, our position is that there is
a very high risk that anyone attempting to assist someone to complete the questionnaire would stray
into giving regulated advice. Immigration advice is defined in statute in very broad terms. A discussion
with an individual seeking asylum about what information is relevant to a question will almost always
involve immigration advice.
The lack of capacity among legal representatives combined with the threat of a claim being withdrawn
may drive vulnerable and desperate individuals, who have objectively strong claims, to incur debt to pay
for this work privately and place them at risk of financial exploitation. We are concerned that it will
encourage a culture of assistance and advice from unregulated organisations, undermining the
protections sought to be imposed by a rigorous regulatory framework.
As for the reality facing individuals who cannot find free representation or afford private representation,
the Government has placed them in a position where they must complete the questionnaire in English,
by themselves, using ‘online translation tools’, or face withdrawal of their claim.
Therefore, we call on the Government to:
1. Confirm that the Home Secretary will not treat an asylum claim as implicitly withdrawn if the
questionnaire is not completed. Completion should not be mandatory. Further or alternatively,
the Home Office should create a process for reinstating any withdrawn claims that individuals
wish to continue, and treat them as never having been withdrawn. If a questionnaire is not
returned, including within any extended timeframe for completion, then unless the Home Office
is able to grant protection on the information already available to it, it should result in the Home
Office reverting to the ordinary interview process.
2. In consultation with legal representatives and others in the sector:
○ urgently simplify the questionnaire;
○ write it in plain English;
○ have it accompanied by a translation in the relevant language, and ensure that it can and
will be made available in any language requested, to make it better accessible to
unrepresented individuals who have that level of literacy;
○ only ask for information which the Home Office truly needs to quickly grant refugee
status to individuals from these high-grant nationalities, in order to clear the backlog,
and consider children’s best interests;
○ create a user-friendly guide for the completion of the questionnaire that accompanies it;
○ make it very clear to families whether they need to fill in a separate questionnaire for
each child or not.
3. In the first instance, only issue the questionnaire to individuals with legal representatives, and
ensure the Home Office has the correct details for the representative, until lessons can be
learned from the first cohort and the guide and questionnaire can be further adapted if
necessary. If this results in grants of status to those with legal representatives, it will also free up
capacity to enable those legal representatives to assist others.
4. Provide an option for individuals to decline to complete the questionnaire, on receipt, and
instead request an interview. This will be particularly important for individuals who cannot
access interpreter services.
5. Make explicit both in the policy, the questionnaire, and any information provided to individuals
who receive the questionnaire, that if they wish to have access to legal advice in order to
complete and return the questionnaire, they are permitted to do so and will be given the time
they need to find and access legal representation. The Home Office should confirm it is willing to
take these steps and if it is not, it should confirm how the policy in its existing form guarantees
procedural fairness and respects the right of access to justice.
6. Provide a published blanket extension for all unrepresented individuals to complete the
questionnaire. The Home Office must check its records or make relevant enquiries to determine
whether an individual has a legal representative. If an individual does not, a blanket further
extension of at least 20 working days should be granted, pending the caseworker making
enquiries to ensure the individual has received the questionnaire and knows how to access legal
advice should they want it. Failure to do so will leave the Home Office processing a great number
of applications for an extension of time.
7. Accept identity documentation without accompanying translations from individuals without
legal aid representation, as such individuals are highly unlikely to have funds for translations.
Digital copies should be accepted initially, so that identity documents are not lost in the system,
and originals can be provided on specific request.
8. Ensure the Home Office contacts individuals to verify their up-to-date contact details. If the aim
of the policy is to identify whether an individual still wishes to make an asylum claim, this is a
better method of ensuring an individual remains in touch than requesting complex information
under threat of withdrawing their claim.
9. Confirm in the guidance that no adverse credibility inference will be drawn from inconsistencies
or gaps between this questionnaire and any other past or future representations or statements
(whether in writing, interviews, or at appeal). We are particularly concerned about adverse
credibility inferences being drawn if the questionnaire is completed without the benefit of legal
representation. If it is truly the case that what is provided in the questionnaire ‘doesn’t need to
be perfect’, reflect this in the credibility guidance.
10. Confirm in the guidance that the Home Office will only grant refugee status, and never refuse
asylum claims, without a substantive interview. Thus, the grounds in Immigration Rule 339NA
will not be invoked on the basis of questionnaire responses/non-responses.
11. Publish clear guidance on the regulatory requirements a person must meet to assist an individual
seeking asylum to complete the questionnaire and the extent of assistance that can be provided
at different levels of accreditation/qualification.
12. Publish a service standard for decision-making following submission of the questionnaire.
These suggestions are made solely on the basis that this policy applies only to adult and family asylum
claims made before 28 June 2022 by nationals of five high grant nationalities, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya,
Syria and Yemen. A different set of concerns may apply for other nationalities, unaccompanied children,
and for cases made on or after 28 June 2022 for which a person may be given Group 2 refugee status.
It is not too late for the Government to make our recommended changes and remedy its approach. We
remain willing to engage with the Government to find the best way to process asylum claims efficiently