Bishop of Durham asks about safe asylum routes and the outsourcing of asylum interviews

On 10th November the Bishop of Durham received four written answers to questions on safe asylum routes and the outsourcing of asylum interviews:

 The Lord Bishop of Durham: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 21 October (HL Deb, col 1598), when the review into “safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers, refugees and their families” will be completed; and whether that review will be published. [HL9631]

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Safe and legal routes are a core part of our proposed reforms to the asylum system to ensure it is both firm and fair. As made clear in the answer on 21 October (HL Deb, col 1598), as an integral part of that work the Government will conduct a review of safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers, refugees and their families, which will include reviewing routes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to reunite with their family members in the UK.

This government intends to bring forward legislation next year that will deliver some of our much-needed reforms.


The Lord Bishop of Durham: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will evaluate the success of the proof of concept pilot for the outsourcing of asylum interviews. [HL9628]

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Asylum Operations are exploring many options to reduce the number of outstanding asylum claims. Alongside seeking temporary resource from within the Home Office and other government departments, we are also exploring with third-party suppliers, through a proof of concept, to test the viability of whether they can deliver the support required as a temporary, short term measure. An eight-week controlled mobilisation of testing has been confirmed. Once we have completed the proof of concept exercise, an evaluation will be completed, and this will inform any further recommendations or actions.

Asylum interviews have not been outsourced, and at this stage we are only exploring the potential feasibility. The increased interview throughput will help rebalance the system, but also speed up decision making, reduce the number of outstanding cases and support costs.

Asylum Operations will be looking to source resource with the right competency and recent experience in conducting sensitive interviews. To ensure external suppliers are suitably equipped to carry out the role, third-party interviewing officers will complete a bespoke training package, delivered by the qualified asylum operations training team, that has been designed specifically to meet their needs. Anyone who conducts asylum interviews receives thorough training to ensure they are fully equipped for the role.

To guarantee governance and accountability, mechanisms are in place for the oversight of third-party interviews, the department has a quality assurance process which assesses the quality of decisions, interviews and the application of Home Office policy.


The Lord Bishop of Durham: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they made of the benefits of consulting with civil society groups, and those who are engaged in supporting asylum seekers through interview processes, before establishing the system for the proof of concept pilot for the outsourcing of asylum interviews without such a consultation. [HL9629]

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Asylum Operations regularly engage with civil society groups via stakeholder forums and often consult with civil society groups on asylum processes.

Asylum Operations first communicated with civil society groups on the proof of concept for asylum interviews on 22 September 2020. We further engaged on the 6 October 2020 and continue to gather feedback to support the development of the proof of concept. We are in the process of responding in writing to further questions already submitted from civil society groups.

The proof of concept will help establish if there is a longer-term viability. Once the proof of concept phase is complete, we will evaluate as part of ongoing engagement with civil society groups to support further development.


The Lord Bishop of Durham: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the proof of concept pilot for the outsourcing of asylum interviews, whether the claimants will be informed that they are being interviewed by a third party rather than a Home Office employee; and if not, whether this information will be available upon request. [HL9630]

Baroness Williams of Trafford: The Home Office is not planning to disclose to a claimant if they have been interviewed by a third party rather than a Home Office employee. We do not ask staff to disclosure their employee status prior to interview.

Third party interviewing officers will complete a bespoke training package, delivered by the qualified asylum operations training team, that has been designed specifically to meet their needs. The course will include training specifically about modern slavery and safeguarding awareness. Anyone who conducts asylum interviews receives thorough training to ensure they are fully equipped for the role. We expect the experience to equal the existing high standards already in place.

To guarantee governance and accountability, mechanisms are in place for the oversight of third-party interviews and the department has a quality assurance process which assesses the quality of decisions, interviews and the application of Home Office policy.