Home Office delays: FLR(FP) applications not subject to a service standard due to COVID-19 pandemic “severe disruption” says the Home Office

“I don’t understand……..why is my application taking over 8months to be decided, the Home Office only took 5months to decide the last one?”, so asks an applicant in exasperation, clearly fed-up with the delay in receiving a decision from the Home Office.

Home Office customer service standards for processing applications from those applying to remain on a temporary basis is stated to be 8weeks. Customers applying in the UK for indefinite leave to remain or no time limit (NTL) should expect to have their applications decided within 6months.

Home Office service standard processing times for standard applications (6 months or 8 weeks depending on application type) will start when they receive an application.

Relevant published information also makes it clear: “If there is a problem with your application or if it is complex, we will write to explain why it will not be decided within the normal standard. We will write within the normal processing time for the 8 week standard and within 12 weeks for the 6 month standard. The letter will explain what will happen next”.

Immigration practitioners have ready access to this information and so to do applicants, however with reference to FLR(FP) applications in particular, it is a myth that the Home Office periodically contact applicants with progress updates. Nor do they write in to even acknowledge receipt of a submitted application apart from enabling receipt of a vague general automated email  received upon submission of an online application.

Applicants are simply left to wallow, month following month of deafening silence with chaser correspondence from applicants being largely ignored.

This was the state of affairs for one such applicant until the following response was received a month after an emailed complaint to the Home Office:

“Thank you for your email of 16 February 2021 where you have raised a complaint about the delay in making a decision on your client, Mrs …………’s, application for Further Leave to Remain (FLR).

I am sorry for any frustration, but I am unable to uphold your complaint as the delay has not been down to any maladministration on the part of the business. It will hopefully be helpful if I explain further.

FLR(FP) applications are not presently subject to a service standard. This is due to their potential complexity, relying as they tend to on human rights claims.

All applications are subject to enquiries with other government departments and international organisations to ensure that the statutory requirements have been satisfied, and I would add that the extent and length of time taken to complete these enquiries varies according to the particular circumstance of each application. I am afraid that we are therefore unable to provide a timescale for completion. I would also point out that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe disruption to our services, and this has led to further delays which have been down to circumstances beyond our control.

What I can confirm is that Mrs ……..’s current application was submitted prior to her previous grant of leave expiring, and so her application is therefore ‘in time’ and is covered by 3C leave. This means that the conditions of this previous grant of leave will be extended until a decision is made on her current outstanding application. Further guidance on 3C leave can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/3c-and-3d-leave.

I appreciate that your client may be disappointed that I have been unable to provide a timescale for a decision, but I hope that my response has helped to explain the position.

……………………………………………………”

Substantial fees are required by the Home Office before FLR(FP) applications can be considered (£2612.20 per applicant). The Home Office state there are “severe disruptions” caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In such circumstances, in the absence of relevant clarifications to this effect on their website, the Home Office should be emailing each and every “customer” so affected instead of maintaining a wall of silence, until provoked into responding.   The current standard  automated confirmation emails received on submission of an online application could contain this information so that applicants are on notice from the beginning that there might be some delays to progression of their applications and that standard service times do not currently apply.

There are most likely much more categories of applicants, including asylum claimants, who have and will see  delays in progression and decision making.

In some cases, the Home Office are also granting leave to remain whilst also indicating within grant letters, that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, passports will be retained until such time as it is possible to return them.

Briefly, in relation to addressing issues, of course a review of such a response as above from the Complaints Unit can be sought however an applicant may also consider approaching their local MP so that MP representations may be made on their behalf, with such action possibly eliciting a decision.

Depending on the circumstances of a case and upon whether an applicant so instructs/wishes, a  PAP letter before claim/action can be sent to the Home Office as a starting point in seeking to challenge by way of judicial review, a delay in decision-making as unlawful.

Before commencement of actual judicial review proceedings, an immigration practitioner should however ensure they are well-versed with the principles and reasoning emanating from the well-known line of cases which have considered issues of maladministration, unlawful delays and damages.

 

 

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