(1) what assessment he has made of the case for increasing the length of time given to asylum seekers to complete statement of evidence forms;
(2) what recent representations he has received on the length of time given to asylum seekers to complete statement of evidence forms;
(3) what assessment he has made of the impact of the introduction of statement of evidence forms on the numbers of asylum applications rejected on the grounds of non-compliance.
We have received a number of representations from hon. Members and from non- governmental organisations (NGOs) about the length of time given to asylum seekers to complete their statement of evidence forms. There is concern that 10 working days is insufficient time for an asylum seeker to find help completing the detailed Statement of Evidence Form (SEF) in English, and to gather and translate evidence in support of the application.
Asylum seekers are expected to comply with the asylum process and I consider the length of time given to asylum seekers to complete the SEFs to be reasonable. The original 14 day time limit for the return of the SEF was changed to 10 working days, so applicants are not disadvantaged by public holidays.
We do not propose therefore to increase the current 10 day time limit. Most asylum applicants do return their SEF on time. Discretion is exercised where applicants need extra time to obtain translations or submit extra material, such as a medical report, in support of their claim.
A higher proportion of applications was refused on grounds of non-compliance in 1999 and 2000 than had previously been the case. The increase was due partly to the stricter enforcement of the 10 day deadline for return of the SEF and partly to administrative problems which led to a backlog of correspondence within the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and some flawed refusals as a consequence. We have made a number of changes over the past 12 months to improve our administrative processes and reduce flawed refusals. These include the introduction of a dedicated PO Box for the return of completed SEFs, and adjustments to internal procedures to ensure that the receipt of SEFs is registered on a database.
We have also taken steps to improve asylum applicants' understanding of the asylum process and of the importance of meeting the time limit. We have done this by simplifying the explanatory leaflet which is sent out with the SEF, and by making it available in the 33 languages spoken by most asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. The SEF form has also been simplified. NGOs were consulted about these improvements.