Column: Privatisation does not equate to fairness nor improvements
We have been calling upon Government to urgently review its Home Office partnerships with private forms for a considerable time now, issuing warnings that there are serious weaknesses in the system still being driven by ‘cost savings’ and owing to the continuance of the Government’s hostile environment. We are pleased to see cross-party politicians supporting these requests.
We have been contending with those who have the right to remain in the UK being obliged to pay out extortionate and unreasonable fees and travel costs in order to apply for UK status.
In November 2018 the Home Office outsourced the UK’s processing service to a private French company called Sopra Steria. Free visa appointments are only available in six UK locations and all are booked up, months on end, with another 51 visa points charging £60, but these too, are proving nigh-on prohibitive to secure appointments with, resulting in individuals and families with children having to travel miles to access a ‘Premium Appointment’ in Croydon, at £780. Many are held hostage to scramble round to secure this substantial amount and travel costs in order not to breach deadlines for applications to be submitted.
Previously, when the system was under the Home Office, applicants could go to post offices to upload their documents along with their biometric data but since privatisation, this ease of access was withdrawn.
Whilst trying to assist in particular disabled people and those with disabled children, we find no due regard is being given to adaptations or access requirements. No disability exemptions are in operation. For example, disabled people have no way of getting through to services if they miss an appointment due to complications linked to their medical needs or impairments, and are being obliged to lug ‘disability’ buggies cross country just to attend appointments that can not allow travel from northern areas of the UK in a day, thus incurring added costs. Call centre staff, as experienced, are ill-equipped to assist in complex cases and applicants are being obliged to contact their MPs.
Of late the Home Office have expressed ‘some regret’ at ‘inconvenience’ being caused to these ‘legal migrants’ applying for visas, but it is not merely a matter of ‘inconvenience’, it is a matter of individuals and families, including vulnerable ones, having to circumnavigate and pay for a system that is grossly unfair and milking money out of them due to changes arising and now being driven by privatisation and the exertion of the Government’s hostile environment ethos and policy.
The claims now being made by Government, that they and their chosen private company merely made an error in their estimations of how many applicants would come forward to secure their entitlements is also of concern and points to the fact that there are failings in purview and due diligence.
Many of the people we are advocating for have come to this country fleeing religious and other forms of persecution and have enough to contend with.
They have already been given leave to remain by Government but they are now suffering detriment due to what is happening to them and are living in fear having seen how the hostile environment rollercoaster, can and does swiftly escalate, and are minded of happened to the Windrush generation and the whole harmful fiasco of Universal Credit to, hence them trying to do everything in their power to meet Government prescribed deadlines, but in doing so this is coming at a great personal strain and fiscal loss and incurring for them great stress and anxiety.
Government need to urgently review what is going on and they must redress the failings speedily.