What is a Home Office Asylum Questionnaire?
In February 2023, the Home Office announced that it was introducing asylum questionnaires in order to reduce the asylum backlog which currently stands at over 92,000 asylum claims made before 28 June 2022. Despite some reported problems with the asylum questionnaires, it seems that the Home Office will keep using asylum questionnaires in the future.
The purpose of this post is to answer some common questions people have about the asylum questionnaires used by the Home Office. It will mainly focus on the information we have about the asylum questionnaires which began to be rolled out in March 2023 and May 2023. Please note that the information provided in this post is subject to any changes announced by the Home Office and does not constitute legal advice.
Who Was Required to Respond to the Asylum Questionnaire?
The asylum questionnaire was issued to claimants who had not completed a substantive interview and who were from any of the five countries specified by the Home Office.
You can learn more about the substantive interview and when it comes in the process here. The listed nationalities were:
Families can make a shared claim where the main claimant and their dependents fear persecution for the same reasons. In such situations only the main claimant has to answer the questionnaire and the entire family status will be determined in a single asylum decision.
What is the Purpose of the Asylum Questionnaire?
The asylum questionnaire was a document which required claimants to answer questions on a range of topics which would be covered in the substantive interview, such as:
- Reasons for claiming asylum;
- Fear of what would happen if the claimant was returned to their country of origin;
- Physical and mental issues;
- Whether the claimant was a victim of trafficking or modern slavery;
- Other reasons for needing to stay in the UK;
- Whether there are grounds for suspecting that the claimant was involved in activities that would cause them to be excluded from refugee protection (such as war crimes); and
- Family members dependent on the asylum claim, including UK born children.
The claimants were encouraged to provide written answers in English with enough detail to enable the Home Office decision maker to determine whether to grant the claimant refugee status without the need for an interview.
If the Home Office decision maker decided that there was not enough information in the answers to the questionnaire to make a decision to grant refugee status, the claimant would be invited to a shorter interview.
When Was I Required to Respond to the Asylum Questionnaire?
Claimants were required to return the completed questionnaire within 20 working days of receiving a letter from the Home Office instructing them to complete the questionnaire. If the questionnaire was not completed within this time frame the claimant was sent a reminder and given a further ten working days.
Claimants could apply for a further extension. According to their published policy, the Home Office had to consider applications for extensions on a “case-by-case basis” and would grant extensions “if the request is “reasonable and proportionate” to the reasons given. The policy notes that extensions longer than 20 working days were not likely to be reasonable in the absence of exceptional circumstances.
What Happened if I Didn’t Complete my Asylum Questionnaire in the Given Time Period?
If you did not complete and return the questionnaire in the time period provided by the Home Office, your asylum application will be treated as withdrawn.
A claim is withdrawn when a claimant no longer wishes to pursue an asylum claim in the UK. The Home Office will consider an asylum claim implicitly withdrawn if you do not comply with the asylum process, for example by failing to attend an interview or in this case by failing to return a completed questionnaire.
Clearly, there are circumstances where a claimant will not return the completed questionnaire in the required time frame but still wants to pursue an asylum claim. The claimant must show within a reasonable time that the failure to return a completed questionnaire was due to circumstances beyond their control.
For example, if the claimant did not receive the questionnaire through no fault of their own, their asylum claim will not be withdrawn. The Home Office will consider information regarding the claimant’s personal circumstances such as mental health, trauma, mental capacity and learning difficulties.
If the Home Office decides that the claim was withdrawn incorrectly, they will reinstate the asylum claim and provide further time for the claimant to complete and return the questionnaire.
If the Home Office decides that the claim was withdrawn correctly, essentially if they do not accept that the reasons why the claimant did not return the questionnaire were outside the claimant’s control, it is still possible for the claimant to salvage their claim. The Immigration Rules allow claimants to make further submissions, which will amount to a fresh claim if the claimant includes material which had not been already considered by the Home Office decision maker and if combined with previously considered material it creates a realistic prospect of success. The Home Office provides information on how to send further submissions here.
What if my Asylum Claim is Rejected?
Remember if the Home Office decision maker decides that there is not enough information in your completed asylum questionnaire to grant you refugee status, they will invite you to an interview before making the decision.
If your claim is refused, generally you can appeal it. This is because an asylum claim is a human rights claim and so you have the right to appeal to an independent tribunal, subject to certification. Appeals to asylum determinations are heard in the First tier Tribunals, which are located all over the country. The appeal will be heard in front of a judge who will be able to reconsider the Home Office’s decision.
If your appeal is dismissed (in other words the judge agrees with the Home Office’s decision), you can apply for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal, if you think the judge has made an error of law. It is strongly recommended that you seek legal advice in these circumstances.
Is the Home Office Still Using Asylum Questionnaires?
Despite the controversy surrounding their use, the Home Office has indicated that they will continue to use asylum questionnaires as a way to cut down the asylum backlog.
In May 2023, the Home Office announced that they will use asylum questionnaires to fast-track Iraqi and Iranian asylum claims made before 28 June 2022. The online form to complete the questionnaire is available here.
Contact our Immigration Lawyers
For expert advice and assistance in relation to an asylum application, contact our immigration barristers in London on 0203 617 9173 or via the enquiry form below.