Home Office wasted £347 million on immigration system

The Home Office wasted £347 million on a system intended to support applications for visas and immigration, according to a report released today by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The project to build the new ‘Immigration Case Work’ (ICW) system kicked off in December 2008 with IBM serving as systems integrator responsible for the overall design of the new IT system.

“The ICW programme was supposed to replace the legacy Casework Information Database (CID) and 20 other systems by combining all casework interactions with people,” according to the report. The system was originally due to launch by March 2014.

However it was cancelled in August last year “having achieved much less than planned”, the NAO said.

Legacy system

Caseworkers are still using the legacy CID system, which is plagued by problems such as freezing, a lack of interface with other systems, and a lack of controls, which allows staff to leave data fields blank, according to the spending watchdog.

The department is replacing the ICW project with a new ‘Immigration Platform Technologies’ programme, which will cost £209 million over four years and will be built using an ‘agile’ approach focusing on incremental improvements.

“However, support contracts for CID expire in January 2016, before the scheduled completion of IPT in 2017. The Department is reviewing options for support contracts to cover this gap,” the auditor said.

Lack of progress

Three new Home Office directorates replaced the former UK Border Agency in 2012: Immigration Enforcement, UK Visas & Immigration, and Border Force. Part of the rationale for the move was inadequate IT systems, according to Home Secretary Theresa May.

However the NAO found that Immigration Enforcement and UK Visas & Immigration “still rely heavily on complicated legacy IT, with multiple systems and limited integration. This is a significant barrier to sharing information between teams within and between the directorates.”

The auditor added: “Problems identified back in 2012 have not progressed as far as we would have expected by now.”

The spending watchdog found that, as a result of poor IT, the department lacks good quality information.

The NAO also warned that the heavy reliance on paper processes by the three directorates increases the risk of errors and limits opportunities to improve efficiency.

‘Little confidence’

Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge MP said: “The department is not helping itself, as it has failed to solve its IT problems - despite spending £347 million on a new system, it has not delivered what was expected.

“Given its poor track record, I have little confidence that the further £209 million it is spending on another IT system will be money well spent.”

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “While hundreds of millions of pounds goes down the drain, there are still large backlogs of immigration and asylum cases and staff are being hampered from doing their jobs by outdated technology.”

Home Office response

However, immigration and security minister James Brokenshire said: "This report shows the decision to split up UKBA was the right one.

“I’m pleased the NAO has found that our changes are already delivering improvements, including cutting immigration application times by 25 percent and embedding a culture that is more focused on improving performance in the future.

“As we said when we took the decision to split up UKBA, transforming our broken immigration system will take time, but our changes are building a system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants and tough on those who abuse the system and flout the law.”

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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