IT problems compound 'asylum chaos'

The delayed, four year rollout of systems to process asylum seeker claims is leaving staff with “chaotic” information trails on loose pieces of paper and fax messages.

In a new report, the powerful House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts said this “state of the ark, rather than state of the art” setup is contributing to the backlog of claims doubling to 8,700 in the year to 2008.

Lengthy and problematic decision making processes, and delayed interviews with applicants were slowing the process at a time when the number of claims was rising, it said.

It lambasted the Home Office for leaving asylum staff to make decisions based on a combination of files for each applicant. These files often included hand written notes, printouts and fax messages, as well as data on legacy IT systems.

“This wastes [managerial] time and carries a risk that personal information could be lost,” said the Management of Asylum Applications report.

“The department should continue to develop and expand its use of new technology, for example, digital recording of interviews and electronic information exchange, and prioritise the introduction of those systems which reduce the risk of losing sensitive personal information and increase the productivity of case owners,” it added.

But in evidence given to the committee, the Home Office defended its strategy to roll out the systems over the four years to 2013.

It is “going to take it step-by-step, we are not going to introduce it as a great big block for obvious reasons because that is the way to have a failed system”, said Sir David Normington, permanent secretary.

He added that the department had attempted a "big bang" approach in 2001 to 2002, and that this had failed. But it is only now, in 2009, introducing the new system.

“Forgive me, [staff] do have computers and we do a have a caseworking system,” Normington said in evidence. “It is just that it is a creaking system and it should have been modernised some years ago and was not because the modernisation failed, so we are trying again.”

When contacted by Computerworld UK, the Home Office could not immediately say why it had taken seven years, since that failure, to begin introducing the new system.

It also could not immediately confirm what the new system was.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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