In Brief

Home Office ‘has no idea’ how many people are in UK illegally

New NAO report says government has not updated estimated figures for undocumented migrants for 15 years

An up-to-date estimate of the number of people living illegally in the UK has not been produced by the government since 2005, according to Whitehall’s spending watchdog.

A new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) says that the last official estimate suggested that around 430,000 people were in the country with no right to remain - but notes that more recent independent research has put the figure at more than a million. 

The NAO investigation into the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement directorate found that the department has “estimated demand for immigration enforcement activity” to be between 240,000 and 320,000 cases a year, says Sky News.

But “the report said there was no baseline given against which progress can be measured or to demonstrate whether demand is rising or falling”, the broadcaster adds.

The watchdog also “disclosed that illegal immigrants who evade detection for two years are disregarded”, and concluded that the £392m annual budget for Immigration Enforcement, one of the divisions run by Home Secretary Priti Patel, was not “good value”, says the Daily Mail.

The NAO has now “called for officials to produce a proper estimate of how many people are living in the UK illegally”, the newspaper continues. 

The watchdog said that without up-to-date figures, the Home Office “cannot show whether its measures are working”, despite “collecting information around its missions and objectives”.

That accusation has been echoed by Labour MP Meg Hillier, head of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, who said that the “Home Office has no idea how many people are in the country illegally and doesn’t seem interested in finding out”. 

“It can’t demonstrate that its actions to control illegal immigration are working as intended, and doesn’t understand how different aspects of its work fit together,” she added.

The NAO report also reveals that detected attempts by people to enter the UK illegally increased to 46,900 in the 12 months to October 2019, up from 40,800 in the same period for the previous year. 

But as ITV News notes, the watchdog concluded that it is “it is unclear whether that was down to more attempts being made overall or better detection”.

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Responding to the pubication of the watchdog’s findings, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We have taken back control of our immigration system and for the first time in a generation, we will have full control over who comes and stays here. 

“As this report acknowledges, the nature of immigration crime and offending is complicated and we are consistently looking at ways to get ahead of the organised gangs behind it.”

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