So Windrush happened, and yet UK Home Office immigration data still has 'appalling defects'

Could errors affect other applications? Dunno. When will new systems be online? Dunno

The Home Office is making life-changing decisions using "incorrect data from systems that are not fit for purpose" and has not fixed the "appalling defects" identified during the Windrush scandal, MPs have said.

Parliament's influential Public Accounts Committee (PAC) slammed the department's "systemic failure to keep accurate records" in a report on the debacle published today.

The Windrush scandal erupted when it was found that some people invited to move to the UK from Caribbean nations after the Second World War – who were entitled to indefinite leave to remain – were being denied access to public services and being removed from or refused re-entry to the UK.

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It emerged the government had destroyed landing records of these citizens, many of whom hadn't at the time been given any documentation to prove their immigration status.

The PAC report condemned not only the failures that allowed the problem to arise, but also the government's inaction to help these people – and warned that poor data management processes could pose a risk for European Union citizens who are applying for settled status in the UK ahead of Brexit.

The conclusions echo those made by the National Audit Office, which last year condemned the Home Office for widespread failures in data management, governance and sharing.

Both reports emphasised the importance of the decisions that the Home Office makes. "Given the human cost of wrong decisions in the immigration system, the Department must invest significant effort so that its staff make the right decisions and correctly record people's immigration history and status," the PAC said today.

However, it added the Home Office was initially "complacent" in its handling of Windrush – failing to even identify affected people from its own data. Even after a "belated flurry of activity", the department still hadn't tackled underlying, systemic issues.

To compound the matter, the Home Office told the PAC that it didn't know if issues with unreliable data and incorrect sanctions subsequently doled out to the Windrush generation might apply to other immigration applications – something branded as "deeply worrying".

Atlas plugged

The existing case management system, the Casework Information Database, dates back to 1998 and the Home Office has acknowledged defects in both the system and data. It claimed that its new system, Atlas, will resolve these problems – for instance, with more automated updates and less manual data entry.

However, the Home Office is also said to have been unable to confirm to MPs how Atlas will deal with the stock and flow of cases being transferred to it. The department was also unable to say definitively when the new system would be rolled out, although it is due for completion by 2021.

The PAC report urged the department to prioritise improving data quality in the design and use of Atlas, and asked for a written plan to be submitted to the committee setting out specifics on data cleansing, migration of existing case files and controls on the input of new data.

The MPs also pointed out that the Home Office had been warned by watchdogs, commentators and Parliamentary committees about its data quality on numerous occasions. "We are extremely concerned that the department is not taking this seriously," the report said.

That includes refusing to act on a recommendation from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration that it remove anyone wrongly identified in its database of people who should be disqualified from holding bank accounts and driving licences.

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In a statement sent to The Reg, a Home Office spokesman reiterated previous comments about the government's "determination to right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation" and said it had commissioned an independent review to "establish what went wrong".

He added that a taskforce set up to deal with the crisis had "helped thousands of people of different nationalities prove their status in the UK", and that through the Windrush scheme 3,400 people obtained British citizenship.

However, committee chair Meg Hillier said there was "a long way to go before the Home Office can credibly claim to have put things right" and urged it to issue a "swift and positive response" to the report's recommendations. ®

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