Is the asylum backlog ‘falling rapidly’?

27 October 2023
What was claimed

The backlog in asylum cases is now falling rapidly.

Our verdict

Mr Jenrick was likely referring to the “legacy backlog”, which has fallen by almost 37,000 since the end of November 2022. The overall number of outstanding asylum cases has increased over the same period, though it has fallen slightly since reaching a near-record high in June.

During an interview on Sky News on 22 October, immigration minister Robert Jenrick MP said “the backlog in asylum cases is now falling rapidly”.

Both The Times and subsequently reported that the “backlog” of asylum claims had fallen to 55,477 by the end of August, with The Times reporting that the figure was “understood” to have since fallen to below 40,000.

None of these claims make clear that these figures don’t refer to the overall asylum backlog, but instead the “legacy backlog”—a subset of the total number of outstanding asylum applications which the government has said it is aiming to clear by the end of the year. 

Mr Jenrick did not specify which figures he was talking about, but when we asked the Home Office about his comments it provided figures for the “legacy backlog”.

We’ve written to the Home Office previously about ministers failing to make clear the distinction between the overall backlog in asylum applications and the smaller group of “legacy backlog” applications.

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How has the backlog changed?

In December 2022, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a five point plan to tackle the asylum backlog.

According to ad-hoc data published by the Home Office, as of 30 November 2022—shortly before Mr Sunak outlined this plan—there were a total of 131,292 outstanding asylum applications.

As of 28 August 2023, this figure had increased to 136,944—a slight increase on the previous month, but lower than in June, when there were a near-record 138,700 outstanding cases in total.

When the government has spoken about the backlog falling, it is typically referring only to the “legacy backlog”, which it defines as asylum applications made before 28 June 2022, when sections of the Nationality and Borders Act which made changes to the asylum process came into force.

On 30 November 2022, this legacy backlog stood at 92,327. It has since fallen to 55,477 as of 28 August 2023. We asked the Home Office about The Times’s report that the legacy backlog has since fallen to below 40,000, as this figure does not appear to have been formally published.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The asylum backlog of legacy cases had fallen by over 35,000 cases, between the end of November 2022 and the end of August 2023, and has continued to fall since the last publication of statistics. We are confident that with increased capacity and improved efficiency this will help deliver further significant output over the coming months.”

These figures refer to the number of applications and do not include dependents of main applicants. Figures including dependents are only available up to the end of June 2023, when a total of 175,457 people had an asylum application awaiting an initial decision—the highest number since comparable records began in 2010.

When ministers make claims about the asylum backlog, they should be clear about which backlog they're referring to so as to prevent the public from being misled. It is reasonable to assume that people might think the phrase “asylum backlog” refers to the total number of asylum cases awaiting an initial decision. If MPs or ministers are referring to the backlog of initial decisions relating to asylum applications made before 28 June 2022, they should ensure they make this clear.

It is important to note that the “legacy backlog” of initial decisions does not provide a full picture of the situation, particularly when the total number of asylum cases awaiting an initial decision is near record levels.

Image courtesy of Alamy

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After publishing this fact check, we wrote to Robert Jenrick to  ask that he is clear about which backlog he is referring to in future.

Mr Jenrick did not respond.

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