The Secretary of State for the Home Department is responsible in law for registering asylum applications. This responsibility is carried out by civil servants in the UK Visas and Immigration Section (UKVI) of the Home Office. If a person claims asylum on entry to the UK, immigration officers at the port have no power to take a decision on the claim and must refer it to UKVI.
Where a couple or family claim asylum, the children normally apply as dependants on the claim of one of their parents. Also, one partner may apply as the dependant of the other. This means that the outcome of their claim will depend upon that of the main applicant. It is policy to inform women separately that they may claim separately from their partner, although there is no recent research or regular auditing to check that this is routinely done. Following a judgment in the Supreme Court, known as ‘G v G’ policy guidance was introduced to comply; namely that children’s protection needs must be considered and if necessary, determined separately from the parents, where they are different. The questionnaire given to adult applicants has been amended to reflect the need to identify any protection needs specific to the child.
There is no specific time limit for asylum seekers to lodge their application. A claim may be refused if the applicant ‘fails, without reasonable explanation, to make a prompt and full disclosure of material facts.’ However, ‘applications for asylum shall be neither rejected nor excluded from examination on the sole ground that they have not been made as soon as possible. In practice, where someone is present in the UK in another capacity, e.g. as a student or worker, and then claims asylum after some years, whether or not they have overstayed their immigration leave, this may be treated as evidence that they are not in fear. Financial support and accommodation can be refused if the person did not claim ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’, but not if this would entail a breach of human rights (see Reception Conditions).
First applications made from inside the UK must be registered by appointment at the Asylum Intake Unit (AIU) – formerly Asylum Screening Unit (ASU) – in Croydon in the South East of England unless the asylum seeker is in detention or unless an applicant successfully argues that they cannot be expected to travel to the AIU. This includes all applications not made at the port of entry, even if only hours after arrival and where the asylum seeker has left the port. New rules were laid in 2020, coming into force on 31 December 2020, to designate the place of claim. It has been explained that this is to make clear that claims cannot be made in territorial waters and that anyone attempting to do so will be brought to the UK to make their claim.
There is no government funding for fares to the AIU. Particularly where asylum seekers are newly arrived in the UK, and may be confused, disoriented and understanding little English, making this journey successfully is very problematic.
Applicants are required to telephone the AIU before they can apply in person, and give some basic personal details over the phone, but not details of their asylum claim. They are then given an appointment to attend and register their claim. In the meantime, they are unable to access financial support or government-provided accommodation. In exceptional circumstances – destitution or extreme vulnerability – the Home Office can accept walk-in applications or offer a same or next-day appointment. In practice, it is hard to prove that the applicant is destitute or sufficiently vulnerable and applicants are advised that they may need to advocate for their need to be seen without an appointment. Temporary facilities were opened in April 2020 at six additional Home Office premises, to reduce the need for travel during the pandemic. These remain in place at the time of writing.
There is no rule laying down a maximum period within which an asylum claim must be registered, after the authority has first been notified of the claim. Appointments for the screening interview are usually fixed within one or two weeks after the telephone call, but a 2017 inspection showed that screening officers struggle to meet their targets. Whilst those targets are no longer applied, an inspection published in 2021 found that officers reported feeling ‘relentless pressure’ and stretched to the limit’. The same inspection found inconsistencies in approach between different sections of the Home Office and decision makers reporting incomplete screening records which hindered their ability to prepare the consideration of the claim. A person who claims asylum on being arrested or detained or during detention is not taken to the AIU but may be screened in detention or at a regional office or even in a police station. The screening interview in such a case is carried out by an immigration official, not a police officer, but information disclosed during a police interview under caution may be disclosed to the asylum authorities.
At the screening interview, fingerprints are taken for comparison with databases including Eurodac and the route of travel is inquired into. As from 2021 access to Eurodac is limited to transfer requests made prior to the beginning of 2021. The asylum seeker is asked basic details of their claim. Although confidential space is now provided for interviewing at the Croydon screening unit, there is no supervised childcare for this first stage of the process. The lack of childcare provision at the AIU remains an obstacle to disclosure of sensitive information such as an experience of torture or rape since children may be in the same room as the parent while information on the basis of the claim is taken.
The government published new guidance relating to this stage of the process in 2018 and this was revised in 2020. Although details of the asylum claim should not be required at this stage, a decision will be made as to which kind of procedure the application will be routed through, including inadmissibility (on Safe Third Country grounds) and suitability for detention.
There is no provision for publicly funded legal assistance at the screening interview except for unaccompanied children. Applicants who have applied from within the UK may have had legal advice prior to screening, but those applying at a port will not have had that opportunity. The Screening Unit does not have direct access to appointments for legal representatives, but officers can use a public access part of the government website called ‘Find a Legal Adviser’ which enables a search for contact details of legal representatives listed by subject matter and by region. The officer can search in the region where the asylum seeker is going to be sent for initial accommodation (see Reception Conditions). There is no obligation on screening offices to help in finding legal representation.
Registration of unaccompanied children
The policy is to treat unaccompanied children differently and this system is now the norm. The policy guidance, first issued in July 2016 and updated, most recently in December 2020 reflects the practice that had emerged following a report by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, and a judgment of the Court of Appeal. Children encountered prior to them being cared for by a local authority are interviewed by an immigration officer in a ‘welfare interview’ which is designed to elicit information about the safety of the child and enable a referral to be made. If the child is already in the care of the local authority the appointment with an immigration officer is to register the claim. At both types of interview the child’s biometrics are taken. If under 16, the process requires a responsible adult (independent of the Home Office) to be present for the biometrics.
 Section 113 Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act (NIAA) 2002.
 Para 328 Immigration Rules Part 11.
 Home Office, Gender issues in the asylum claim, September 2010, available at: http://bit.ly/1CbiHBK, para 7.1; Home Office, Dependants and former Dependants, May 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/2Bjz5G8.
 UKSC 2021 9 GvG https://bit.ly/3ru4iT7
 Considering children’s protection needs, Home Office July 2021 https://bit.ly/32dIeDH
 Preliminary Information Questionnaire https://bit.ly/3qQJaHL
 Para 339M Immigration Rules Part 11.
 Para 339MA Immigration Rules Part 11.
 Section 55 NIAA 2002.
 House of Lords, Limbuela v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKHL 66.
 Statement of changes to Immigration rules December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3ccIw00
 Right to Remain, Toolkit (information for people making an asylum claim), available at: https://bit.ly/2tnuIfd.
 An inspection asylum casework, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, published November 2021 https://bit.ly/3IdOQkA
 See Joint Committee on Human Rights, Violence against Women and Girls Sixth report of session 2014-15, HL Paper 106 HC 594, recommendation 37.
 Court of Appeal, R (AN and FA) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1636.