“In 2020, there were 54% of lone child asylum claims that actually turned out to be adults. Now, today, in 2022, over 70% of lone child asylum claims are actually adult.”
During an appearance on GB News last week, the deputy leader of UKIP, Rebecca Jane, claimed that in 2020 54% of unaccompanied asylum seeking children “actually turned out to be adults”, and that in 2022 this figure was over 70%.
A clip of the appearance was also shared by the party’s Facebook page, with a caption featuring slightly different figures, which said: “In 2020, 50% of ‘child’ asylum claims turned out to be grown men. In 2022 that figure is now 72%.”
UKIP hasn’t responded to Full Fact’s request to provide the source for this claim, but it appears to be based on a misinterpretation of figures for age dispute cases.
An “age disputed person” is an individual seeking permission to stay in the UK who, in the view of a Home Office or local authority official, does not have sufficient evidence to prove their age.
In 2020, just over half of all resolved age dispute cases involved asylum seekers who were ultimately found to be over 18. But it’s not correct to refer to these cases as the percentage of all unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) who turn out to be adults, as the age is not disputed in the majority of UASC applications.
The figure given for 2022 also appears to be too high even as a percentage of age dispute cases, and we don’t know how many were men, as age dispute figures are not broken down by gender.
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Age dispute case figures are not a proportion of all child asylum claims
Ms Jane’s claim that “54% of lone child asylum claims that actually turned out to be adults” may refer to Home Office statistics on age dispute cases.
According to these figures, in 2020 701 such age dispute cases were resolved, of which approximately 52% were ultimately found to be over 18.
However, not all UASC applications are subject to the age dispute process, so it’s not correct to refer to this figure as a percentage of all unaccompanied child asylum applications.
In 2020, there were 2,773 UASC asylum applications, and 776 age dispute cases raised which involved people who had applied for asylum during the same quarter (as opposed to cases involving people who had applied for asylum months or years previously).
If you were to take the number of age dispute cases resolved to be adults in 2020 (364) as a proportion of all UASC applications (2,773) raised during the same period, it would be around 13%. However, this figure is only indicative as some of those 364 decisions may relate to applications raised before 2020, and some of the 2,773 applications may not have been resolved by the end of 2020.
It’s also worth noting that these figures aren’t broken down by gender, so it’s not possible to say how many were “grown men” as UKIP says in its post.
2022 figure seems too high
UKIP has not confirmed where its figures come from, but if it is referring to age dispute data, then Ms Jane’s claim that “in 2022, over 70% of lone child asylum claims were actually adult” appears too high, even as a percentage of age dispute cases.
According to Home Office statistics, in the first three quarters of 2022 (data for the last three months of the year is not yet published), 1,150 age disputes were resolved, of which 45% (514) were found to be over 18.
That’s around 14% of all UASC applications made during this period, but again, this figure is only indicative.
Looking at a slightly different time period, the 12 months to September 2022, approximately 47% of age dispute cases were found to be adults. During no quarter of 2022 did the number of age dispute cases where the applicant was found to be over 18 reach 70%.
That said, as a share of all UASC applications, both the total number of age dispute cases and the number of age dispute cases where the applicant was found to be an adult are above pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
Proposed changes to age assessment process
The Home Office is currently considering changes to the age assessment process, including the introduction of a National Age Assessment Board that will “primarily consist of expert social workers whose task will be to conduct full age assessments”. The Nationality and Borders Act may also introduce scientific age assessment techniques (such as dental records and bone measurements).
In a press release issued in January 2022, it said there had been an “unexpected spike” in the number of asylum seekers claiming to be 16, and a “marked drop” in those claiming to be 18 and over between 2016 and 2020.
A spokesperson for the Home Office previously told Full Fact: “Our reforms through the Nationality and Borders Act aim to make assessments more consistent and robust by using scientific measures, and creating a new National Age Assessment Board. If there is doubt whether a claimant is an adult or child, they will be referred for a local authority assessment and will be treated as a child until a decision on their age is made.”
Image courtesy of Gerd Altmann