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Statistics watchdog to examine government asylum backlog claims

The UK’s statistics watchdog is looking into the government’s claims to have cleared the asylum backlog.

On Tuesday, the Home Office said it had fulfilled a pledge to clear a “legacy” backlog of 92,000 applications lodged before July 2022.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also tweeted that the government had cleared “the backlog of asylum decisions”.

But official figures show a decision had not been reached in 4,537 of those “legacy” cases.

And they also showed that there are still 98,599 cases in the overall backlog where an initial decision has yet to be made.

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), which monitors the use of official statistics in the UK, has confirmed it is looking into the government’s claims.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government claim to have cleared the asylum backlog was “not true”.

She also disputed the contention that the “legacy” backlog had been cleared, adding that the government’s figures included 17,000 withdrawn cases where the Home Office had “no idea where those people are,” she said.

In late 2022, Mr Sunak made a commitment to clear this “legacy” backlog – of cases lodged before new asylum rules came into force on 28 June 2022 – by the end of 2023.

The Home Office said more than 112,000 asylum cases in total were processed by officials in 2023. Of those processed, 51,469 resulted in asylum being granted, with 25,550 applications refused.

The remaining applications received “non-substantive” decisions – including withdrawn applications and people who had died.

On Tuesday, Home Secretary James Cleverly argued the government’s promise had been to “process” all remaining legacy claims by the end of 2023, rather than complete them.

He said hiring more staff to deal with claims and changes in how applications are handled had sped up the process for examining claims.

But he added it was “impossible” to say how long it would take to get through all outstanding asylum cases.

The dispute comes just weeks after the UK Statistics Authority, which oversees the OSR, rebuked No 10 for saying that the government had reduced debt.

The watchdog suggested that claim “may have undermined trust in the Government’s use of statistics”.