Record asylum backlog shows need to stop the crossings, says CPS

Figures published today by the Home Office show that, in the final quarter of 2022, the backlog of cases awaiting an initial asylum decision reached the highest level since current records began – and that while the number of caseworkers has doubled in the past year, more progress needs to be made.

The speed with which cases are processed, and the productivity of the asylum system, have both increased substantially since the pandemic ended – but they are still well below where they once were, thanks partly to the introduction of extra bureaucracy via the Modern Slavery Act. At current rates, it could take years to clear the backlog.

This highlights the need to take bold action to cut the numbers crossing the Channel, of the kind outlined in the recent CPS report ‘Stopping the Crossings’.

Analysis of the latest Home Office asylum system data by the CPS shows that:


  • The productivity of the asylum system, defined as the number of asylum case stages completed per caseworker per month, has risen from a low of 0.6 during the pandemic to average 4.5 in the final quarter of 2022.


  • However, productivity is still 40% lower than before the pandemic, and 75% lower than the peak efficiency of 18.2 case stages per caseworker per month in 2015/16, before the Modern Slavery Act began to affect the asylum system.


  • The latest data does not include an update for the number of asylum cases concluded, just case stages completed. As such, it is not clear whether an apparent improvement in productivity is actually translating into reducing the asylum backlog. Greater data transparency is needed.


  • In fact, the backlog of cases awaiting an initial asylum decision reached a record high of 136,522 in Q4 2022, even though the number of asylum caseworkers has doubled over the last year to stand at 1,237, with the Government aiming to get the number of caseworkers up to 2,000.


  • The proportion of asylum applications processed within six months has doubled to 10% since the mid-pandemic low, but is still well below the 24% of 2019 and the 78% of 2015.


  • Unless productivity improves further, the system will not be able to keep pace with the number of Channel crossings, and the size of the backlog – and therefore the number of migrants accommodated in hotels at the taxpayer’s expense – will continue to grow.


  • The following table shows how productive the system needs to be just to stop the backlog growing even further:


Asylum caseworker breakeven productivity requirements, cases concluded per month


  • We currently do not know how productive the asylum system is in terms of case conclusions, given the lack of transparency in the latest data. But assuming 65,000 Channel crossings in 2023 (as per official projections), then just to stop the asylum backlog growing even further, 1,200 caseworkers would have to be concluding 4.5 cases/month. That was around the average productivity of the asylum system in the decade before the pandemic, and is a level not seen since 2018/19.


  • With 2,000 caseworkers (the Government’s recruitment target) concluding 4.5 cases/month, and assuming 65,000 Channel crossings per annum, it will take over three years (38 months) to remove the asylum backlog.


  • But in reality, given that productivity in terms of case stages completed is still 40% lower than before the pandemic, productivity in terms of cases concluded is still likely to be around 2.7 cases per month – or even lower. As such, even with 2,000 caseworkers, the asylum backlog will remain roughly static, given the official projected rate of Channel crossings.


  • However, so far in 2023, the number of people crossing the Channel is up by 70% on the same period last year. If this trend continues, then even with 2,000 caseworkers, the asylum backlog will continue to grow without at least another 20% improvement in caseworker productivity.


  • The asylum system was at its most productive in 2015/16, before the Modern Slavery Act, with each caseworker concluding an average of 6.7 cases per month (and 18.2 case stages). If we could return to these record levels, then with 65,000 crossings per annum, it would still take 2,000 caseworkers 17 months to clear the asylum backlog.


Karl Williams, CPS Senior Researcher and co-author of the December 2022 CPS report ‘Stopping the Crossings’, said:

‘While any improvement in how efficiently the Home Office handles asylum applications is welcome, the latest stats show that the asylum system still fails to deal with as many applications as it did pre-pandemic.

‘The vast number of small boats crossing the channel means trying to reduce the asylum backlog is like running up a down escalator. Ultimately, the only way we will deal with the backlog – short of improving the figures by making it easier for people to be granted asylum, as announced today – is to stop the small boats. Until then, hotels will continue to be crammed with unvetted migrants at the taxpayer’s expense.

‘That is why we urge the Government to keep up the focus on this vital issue. Our report, ‘Stopping the Crossings’, outlined a plan for halting the small boats and taking back control of our immigration and asylum system. We welcome the fact that this report continues to frame the debate and that many of our recommendations have been taken up by the Government so far – but there is much more work to be done to tackle the illegal immigration crisis.’



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  • The Centre for Policy Studies is one of the oldest and most influential think tanks in Westminster. With a focus on taxation, economic growth, business, welfare, education, housing and green growth, its goal is to develop policies that widen enterprise, ownership and opportunity.

Date Added: Thursday 23rd February 2023