The Home Office has “significantly reduced” the amount of data sharing it carries out with other agencies in the wake of the Windrush scandal, according to the chief inspector of immigration and borders.
In a report on the department’s approach to illegal working, David Bolt (pictured) says the Home Office had said in July 2018 that it would halt “proactive data sharing with other government departments and delivery partners for people of all nationalities aged over 30, initially for three months”.
“At the time of the inspection (late last year), this was still paused, with no indication of when it might end,” it says, adding: “Managers were taking a more cautious approach to the production and circulation of performance data, and this had affected morale.
“Meanwhile, proactive data sharing, engagement with partners, and operations were running at a significantly reduced rate.”
The report says the exposure of the wrongful treatment of British residents “fundamentally altered the environment in which immigration enforcement operated”.
Theresa May’s administration was rocked by the fallout from the “hostile environment” she introduced for undocumented migrants, many of whom were wrongly identified as being in the country illegally.
They were denied access to healthcare, employment and housing, with data was passed to the Home Office from schools, the NHS and the police for enforcement purposes.
UKAuthority reported last year how two schemes – immigration checks by banks using Home Office data and the NHS sharing patients’ details – had been suspended.
Fresh evidence for the scaling back of data sharing has been made public by a freedom of information response to the online publication Byline Times.
In 2016, before Windrush hit the headlines, data was shared between the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the Home Office 54,874 times over a six-month period. But the website revealed that this total fell to just 3,470 occasions between November 2018 and April this year.
Zrinka Bralo, chief executive of the group Migrants Organise, told Byline Times she cautiously welcomed the development.
“I would like to think this is a sign that the Home Office is no longer prioritising it (the hostile environment),” she said.
In his report, Bolt acknowledges the “significant” effect on enforcement, as targets were abolished, removals of illegal workers fell and other agencies increasingly resisted helping immigration officers.
Enforcement teams faced growing attempts to disrupt their work, with threatening behaviour, verbal abuse and protests, it says.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0