UK's asylum backlog tops 160,000 for first time since current records began

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The UK's asylum backlog has topped 160,000 for the first time since current records began.

A total of 160,919 people were waiting for an initial decision on their claim at the end of December - up 60% for the same period in 2021.

It is the highest figure since current records began in 2010, Home Office figures published on Thursday show.

Politics live: Minister defends new asylum plans

The number of people waiting more than six months for an initial decision has also soared, with 109,641 of those cases outstanding at the end of 2022 - a 77% year on year jump.

The government blamed the rise in the backlog on "more cases entering the asylum system than receiving initial decisions".

There were 18,699 initial decisions made on asylum applications in the UK in 2022, up 29% on 14,532 in 2021 but 10% below the 20,766 in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

The grant rate last year was the highest since 1990 when it was 82% - although the volume of applications was much lower at that time, with just 4,025 initial decisions made that year.

New 'sped up' process 'not fast-tracking'

The figures were published after Sky News revealed Rishi Sunak is poised to launch a major crackdown on the asylum seeker backlog in the coming days by invalidating applications if they fail to return a new questionnaire within 20 working days.

The questions will be sent to 12,000 people from the war-torn countries of Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Libya and Yemen.

While critics have called it an "amnesty in all but name", others have questioned if the timeframe is fair given asylum seekers often speak little or no English and have limited access to help.

Earlier, sports minister Stuart Andrew told Sky News this is not "fast-tracking" - although he admitted "it's to make sure that the process is sped up".

He added that the new process does not mean applicants will skip "proper due diligence".

In December the prime minister pledged to reduce the asylum backlog by the end of 2023 as he vowed to "stop the boats" crossing the Channel.

It means the Home Office has about 10 months to clear 92,601 initial asylum claims which were in the system as of the end of June 2022.

Mr Sunak has declared the issue one of his top priorities and next month MPs are expecting him to publish laws to bar anyone entering the UK illegally from claiming asylum in Britain.

The figures come as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer seeks to grab the limelight by setting out his five-point plan for the future.