Major flaws in the asylum process are costing taxpayers millions of pounds each year and disproportionately affect refugees from war-torn countries, according to new research.

A new report by Pro Bono Economics has revealed that overturned asylum decisions cost the government over £4 million a year in administrative costs alone.

The research found that asylum seekers from war-ravaged nations, such as Afghanistan and Sudan, are nearly twice as likely to win asylum appeals against the Home Office than asylum seekers from elsewhere.

For example, Home Office figures show that 33% of asylum decisions on Malaysia nationals and 28% on Gambia nationals have been overturned over the last five years. But the proportion jumps to 51% for Afghanistan nationals, and 62% for Sudan nationals.

The report adds weight to growing calls for the Home Office to re-think a “broken” system which costs the economy millions each year and damages the long-term job prospects and mental health of thousands of vulnerable asylum-seekers and refugees.

The findings also suggest that the trauma endured by asylum seekers in their home countries impacts their ability to represent and advocate for themselves during the asylum process. This is often aggravated by the lengthy process and a lack of effective support from official agencies.

Among its key points, the PBE study for the Refugee Survival Trust found that:

  • On average, there are close to 11,500 appeals against initial asylum decisions by the Home Office each year and nearly one in three are successful.
  • Asylum seekers from “very low peace” countries such as Afghanistan are 1.7 times more likely to have a successful appeal than those from “high peace” countries like Malaysia.
  • The annual average cost to the government of contesting appeals that are overturned is £4.3 million in administrative costs alone.
  • More than 60% of asylum seekers and refugees experience serious mental distress and only 15% of refugees find UK employment of a similar status to the job they held in their country of origin.

The £4m spent each year by the government on the administrative costs of unsuccessfully contesting asylum appeals is thought to be just the tip of the iceberg. There are likely to be many millions more spent through the court system and legal aid, as well as on accommodation and living costs for asylum seekers as they await the completion of the appeal process, which typically takes six months.

With the majority of asylum seekers banned from working, the government also misses out on significant tax receipts. A report by the Lift the Ban coalition estimated that if just half of asylum seekers waiting more than six months for a decision on their initial application were allowed to work full-time on the national average wage, the government would receive £73.1m in tax and National Insurance contributions. There would also be an additional £24.7m a year saving on subsistence costs, amounting to a £97.8m total saving each year.

The PBE report also notes that those asylum seekers awaiting a decision could provide a huge public service in helping to fill widespread labour shortages in the UK currently. In addition, research shows that refugees who have been stuck in unemployment can see their skills become eroded - with only 15% finding employment in the UK of a similar status to the job they had in their country of origin.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 61% of asylum seekers and refugees experience serious mental distress, including higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders. PBE’s report notes that being refused asylum is the strongest predictor of depression and anxiety among asylum seekers.

Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics, said:

“The evidence points to an asylum system that isn’t working as well as it should. With nearly one in three appeals against Home Office asylum decisions proving successful, it’s clear that the failings in the system are resulting in serious economic and human costs.

“The fact that asylum seekers from war-torn countries are almost twice as likely to win an asylum appeal as those from more peaceful countries implies that these traumatised individuals are not getting the support they need during the initial application process.

“The system needs overhauling, with the addition of more translators and better training for Home Office staff. But it’s also vital that charities like the Refugee Survival Trust, that specialise in offering practical support to those going through the asylum system, are engaged by government to make this a more effective and humane process.”

Elaine Cameron, CEO of Refugee Survival Trust, said:

“The evidence in the PBE report supports our experiences and data gained over the last 25 years of supporting people in the asylum system.

“We regularly support people who have skills that are valuable to the UK. However, due to the broken system, flawed decision-making and often lengthy delays, people who can and want to contribute to our economy and society are prohibited from doing so.

“It is time that the government took a sensible approach to asylum and reviewed the right to work legislation, particularly given the current labour shortages the UK is experiencing.

“We are concerned that the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill currently passing through Parliament will exacerbate these issues and do nothing to ensure that the UK benefits from the additional skills and resources on offer from asylum seekers.”

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