DWP has the capacity to deal smoothly with any increase in the number of benefit applications resulting from the Home Office’s new streamlined asylum process, says Home Secretary

Letter to Home Affairs, LUHC and Work and Pensions Committees also sets out steps being taken to mitigate potential impacts of the policy on local authorities’ ability to provide effective support

The DWP has the capacity to deal smoothly with any increase in the number of applications for benefit resulting from the Home Office’s 'streamlined' asylum process', the Home Secretary Suella Braverman has said.

In a letter to Ms Braverman dated 28 March 2023, the Chairs of three Select Committees – Home Affairs, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and Work and Pensions – expressed their concerns about the potential impacts on local authorities and the DWP of the government’s new streamlined asylum process – which uses asylum questionnaires and/or shorter interviews as alternatives to substantive interviews in order to speed up decision-making and help meet the Prime Minister's pledge to clear the backlog of legacy asylum claims by the end of 2023.

In relation to local authorities, the Committee Chairs highlight that –

'The government’s focus to clear the asylum backlog is likely to be welcomed by councils across England and Wales in providing certainty to asylum seekers. However, there is a lack of clarity and acute concern amongst councils about the government’s approach to this work.'

Turning to the DWP, the letter seeks assurances about the Department's capability to deal with increased volumes of benefit claims –

'The new accelerated decision process and consequent increase in numbers will place further pressure on the need for refugees to access benefits quickly to prevent homelessness. Please outline how you are working with the Department of Work and Pensions to ensure a smooth transition to benefits for those granted leave to remain?'

Responding in a letter dated 2 June 2023 and published this week, the Home Secretary advises that the first questionnaires are being sent out ‘over the next few weeks’, and that –

'All initial asylum decisions in the legacy backlog are expected to be made by December 2023.'

Having set out details of the steps the Home Office is taking to support local authorities to manage the increased numbers of refugees and failed asylum seekers that will need their support, Ms Braverman turns to comment on the role of the DWP –

'We have established a monthly DWP/HO Asylum Decisions Group meeting. As part of this, we will share monthly asylum seeker datasets with DWP broken down to local authority level, outlining the numbers of [streamlined asylum process] and legacy asylum seeking cohorts across each of the local authorities to be processed by the end of 2023, to ensure DWP are sighted and can more effectively plan.'

In addition, Ms Braverman says that –

'DWP has shown throughout the recent pandemic and in working with re-settlers from Afghanistan and evacuees from Ukraine that it has the capacity to deal smoothly with any increased number of applications for benefit that may result from the Home Office’s accelerated decision process. The Home Office and DWP will work together to understand likely volumes and locations of claims for benefit and ensure that once asylum seekers have been granted refugee status and have recourse to public funds, we are able to support them in accessing the benefits system and in receiving appropriate employment support to help them integrate into the UK.'

The correspondence between the Select Committee Chairs and Home Secretary is available from parliament.uk