As anyone attempting to make an online immigration application in recent weeks will know, the system is in a mess. A right royal mess.
In recent months, many applications have been made online only and the process has been outsourced to a company called Sopra Steria.
You can read about the catalogue of problems with the new system on this piece on the Free Movement blog.
The changes are affected people navigating other aspects of the immigration system, too.
Merseyside Refugee Support Network and Liverpool City of Sanctuary have highlighted how the contracting out and charging for everyday issues are affecting refugees and others.
These include when trying to deal with lost or stolen Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) which prove the holder’s right to stay, work or study in the UK; applications for further leave, applications for indefinite leave to remain; and naturalisation (obtaining British citizenship). It’s worth noting, however, that citizenship applications do not have to been made online, as clarified in this written question to the Home Office.
Merseyside Refugee Support Network and Liverpool City of Sanctuary are very concerned that:
“Refugees are now being charged exorbitant fees to make phone calls; book appointments and then face additional charges to have their documents checked within the already charged/booked appointments!
Clients come to us for help to make these calls but this level of charging is unsustainable for our charity and our clients.
Whilst the online application initially appears straightforward, however the problem is in booking an appointment to support/complete the application process and to get all documentation checks.
This company Sopra Steria operate a Premium Support Line 0900 165 6600 which costs £2.50 per minute. The average duration of a call is 8 to 10 minutes costing £20 – £25. If a mobile has to be used this will incur further charges.
To book an appointment, clients are charged £100 (upfront charges).
The web site claims free appointments are available, but such appointments are only available a month after the application is made. This presents a problem for applications that have to be made 28 days prior to expiration of Leave To Remain – forcing the applicant to pay for £100 appointment.
On top of this, applicants need to upload their supporting documents (previously these could be sent in the post). The information about uploading documents is at the bottom/end of the application process, and can easily be missed by applicant.
Although the website states that applicants can bring their documents to the appointment if they have not been uploaded, it fails to state that there is a £35 charge per person for documents to be uploaded at the appointment.
Apparently, there is a non-premium number not available to applicants at the time of booking the appointment. The applicant can only access the number after bookings have been made – for enquiry purposes only !!”
If you have examples of experiencing these problems, you can share them with MRSN by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
We at Right to Remain back the call by MRSN and Liverpool City of Sanctuary to share any evidence you have about the impact of these charges and raise the matter with your representatives at local and national government.
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