The UK’s stats watchdog has launched an investigation into the government’s claim that it cleared the legacy backlog of asylum claims in 2023.

Rishi Sunak and his administration faced criticism on Tuesday for saying they had cleared all the applications to remain in the UK by asylum seekers made before 28 June 2022.

In total, 4,537 claims from the backlog still needed a decision as of Tuesday – but Mr Sunak’s spokesman said since these had been reviewed, the government considers them “cleared”.

Now, the Office for Statistics Regulation has launched an investigation into the announcement.

In total, the government had 92,000 claims to address from before June 2022 to meet the pledge made by Mr Sunak.

Numbers published by the Home Office showed that, in total, 112,138 initial asylum decisions were made between 1 January and 28 December, compared with 31,766 in all of 2022.

Some 86,800 of these decisions were for legacy cases, while, 25,338 were for non-legacy cases.

In total, 51,469 asylum applications were granted, while 25,550 were refused – meaning 67% were accepted. But it also means that 35,119 “non-substantive” decisions were made.

According to the Home Office, this is where the government withdraws the claim, it is paused, declared void or the applicant failed to complete a part of the application.

The 35,119 figure is more than two and a half times the 13,093 examples of non-substantive claims recorded in 2022.

The government has said that the remaining 4,537 more complex cases typically involve “asylum seekers presenting as children – where age verification is taking place; those with serious medical issues; or those with suspected past convictions, where checks may reveal criminality that would bar asylum”.

Read more:
Govt’s statistics make clear Sunak’s backlog claim isn’t true
Asylum backlog: Old cases nearly cleared but new ones racking up

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Govt accused of misleading public

Sky News understands the OSR probe was launched as a result of a complaint, and the initial investigations will take a number of weeks.

While the OSR can ask for additional information from the Home Office, it does not have the power to compel data to be provided. However, it could rescind its kitemark from the Home Office’s releases.

The OSR has been engaging with the Home Office over the long-term about how they use data.

In a letter responding to a complaint last year, Ed Humpherson, the director general for regulation at the OSR, said officials at the Home Office had “actively engaged” with the watchdog about the department’s data practices.

He did, however, note that while “positive developments” were made at the official level, the OSR was still “concerned that the continued misuse of these data by ministers” could “undermine public trust” in the department.

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The prime minister was also rebuked in December 2023 for claiming “debt is falling” by Sir Robert Chote, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA).

Number 10 argued Mr Sunak was speaking about a projection which showed debt would fall as a proportion of GDP by 2028.

Sir Robert said “the average person in the street” would have interpreted the comment to mean “debt was already falling or that the government’s policy decisions had lowered it at fiscal events – neither of which is the case”.

He added: “This has clearly been a source of confusion and may have undermined trust in the government’s use of statistics and quantitative analysis in this area.”

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