The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, today published ‘Fast and fair?’ a report on the UK Border Agency (the Agency).
The Agency have consistently generated a large number of complaints to the Ombudsman. In the first nine months of 2009-10 the Ombudsman received 478 complaints about the Agency and reported on 33 investigations of which 97% were upheld in full or in part.
‘Fast and Fair?’ includes eleven case studies that reflect the large number and wide range of complaints referred to the Ombudsman by Members of Parliament.
The cases involve applications for asylum, as well as the Agency’s core immigration and nationality work and applications for residence cards, which confirm rights of residence under European law.
In the report Ann Abraham said;
Over the past three years we have had an open and constructive dialogue with the Agency, at both senior and operational levels, about the need for improvements in their service to users and their complaint handling performance.
We have seen progress, but the Agency still have a long way to go on their journey to being able to demonstrate to us that they are meeting the Ombudsman’s Principles of Good Administration, Principles of Good Complaint Handling and Principles for Remedy.
‘Fast and Fair?’ clearly demonstrates that the Agency’s failure to resolve applications within reasonable timescales can have serious implications for the individuals involved, for society in general and for the public purse.
In the case of Mr P, a Jamaican man who was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK in 1990, it took three and a half years for the Agency to provide him with a No Time Limit (NTL) stamp confirming his right to stay in the UK for his new 2004 Jamaican passport.
During this time Mr P was threatened with deportation and missed the funerals of his father and sister and was unable to visit his ill mother as he was afraid he would not be allowed back into the country.
The Ombudsman upheld Mr P’s complaint. The Agency agreed to apologise unreservedly and he received fee refunds of £755 and £2,500 in compensation for the severe distress, inconvenience and embarrassment.
Ann Abraham said:
The Agency have made significant progress in recent years towards clearing their backlogs, although progress has been slow because of the scale of the problem. They need to make sustained and consistent progress towards their commitment to meeting their service standards, clearing existing backlogs and avoiding them in future – because the implications of them not doing so are serious and far-reaching, both for the individuals caught up in the system and for society as a whole.
Given the scale of the problem, there can be no short-term fix, and the resolution will need to be founded on clear and consistent priorities, supported by good forward planning and adequate resources. I hope that the lessons to be learnt from this report will also be of benefit to the Agency as they continue on their journey to improved customer service and complaint handling.
The Ombudsman’s role is not to inspect the Agency’s functions or to report on its effectiveness. However, in publishing the report the Ombudsman hopes that the issues identified will be of wider public interest, drive service improvement and inform public policy.
Note to editors:
1. Ann Abraham holds the post of UK Parliamentary Ombudsman and is also Health Service Ombudsman for England. She is appointed by the Crown and is completely independent of Government and the NHS. Her role is to provide a service to the public by undertaking independent investigations into complaints that government departments, a range of other public bodies in the UK, and the NHS in England, have not acted properly or fairly or have provided a poor service. There is no charge for using the Ombudsman's services.
2. Number of complaints: In 2008-09 the Parliamentary Ombudsman received 7,608 enquiries about government departments and public bodies (excluding health). There was an 8.8 per cent increase in the number of complaints. The Parliamentary Ombudsman received 517 complaints about the UKBA during the same period.
3. Publication details: Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, ‘Fast and fair?’ A report by the Parliamentary Ombudsman on the UK Border Agency, HC 329,
8 February 2010, Press copies of the report are available at www.ombudsman.org.uk or from the Communications Team, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4QP
4. Media Enquiries: For other media enquiries please contact the PHSO Press Office on 0300 061 4996.
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