Preliminary information questionnaires: an update

Legal Updates

Back in January 2019, we wrote about the Home Office introducing new forms into the asylum process called preliminary information questionnaires (PIQs). These are given to people or after their asylum screening interview and before the asylum substantive (big) interview. People usually have 20 days within which to complete the form.

Now these forms have been in use for a while, there’s a little bit more information about how the Home Office views them.

It is still unclear how many people are receiving these forms – it does not seem like everyone who has claimed asylum is receiving one, or may just be that the people we’ve heard from who haven’t, were not aware of having one. Do let us know (you can comment below) if you have had your screening interview in 2020 (or you are supporting someone in this situation) and definitely didn’t receive one.

See what the Preliminary Information Questionnaire looks like here.

What is the form for?

The Home Office say that the preliminary information questionnaires have benefits for people seeking asylum, including:

shorter, more focused interviews, better prepared interviewing officers, identification and support of vulnerabilities.

Before the introduction of this questionnaire (and since they stopped requiring people to fill out a Statement of Evidence form), the Home Office would often only have the information you provided in your screening interview on which to base their questions in your substantive interview.

Some people submit a statement to the Home Office prior to their substantive asylum interview, but there has long been mixed opinion as to whether this is helpful or not for the person claiming asylum. Some lawyers feel that this gave an opportunity for the Home Office to “test” you on what you said in your statement, without you being able to refer to it in the interview. They could then use any discrepancies to say you are not credible and refuse your asylum claim.

In some cases, however, people have found it useful to submit a statement in advance so they do not have to vocalise or go into detail about a traumatic incident in their past – the Home Office could refer to the statement in their decision-making, rather than having to ask you lots of questions about the incident, during the interview.

Concerns about the form, then and now

When the Home Office began issuing these forms, they used to state on the front that “if you do not complete and return this questionnaire and you have not provided an explanation before or immediately after the date noted above [the deadline to return the completed form], your asylum claim may be treated as withdrawn in accordance with paragraph 333C of the Immigration Rules”.

The forms no longer say this, and the Home Office recently said that if the form wasn’t completed then they will just go ahead and book an asylum substantive interview for the person (though I wouldn’t expect this anytime soon based on the huge delays in waiting for interviews that we are hearing about).

One of the original worries about the forms still exists though.

The questionnaire form asks for important information that the Home Office will use – combined with what you said in your screening interview, what you say in your substantive interview, any statements and documents you submit, and information they have about your country – to make a decision on your asylum claim.

If you put information in this form that is different from what you said in your screening interview, and what you go on to say in you substantive asylum interview, this may damage your asylum claim.

It’s therefore extremely important to ask your lawyer to fill in this form with you wherever possible. If a lawyer fills it in for you, you should check that what has been written is correct. Whether you fill the form in yourself, or a lawyer does it for you, make sure you keep a copy of the completed form for your own records.

Questions in the form

The form asks initially for basic details such as your Home Office reference, your name, date and place of birth, nationality and contact details.

You are then asked to list the National Insurance numbers for you and any dependents, if you have previously been given permission to work.

The form then asks you (without specifying a length of answer) to explain:

  • why you fear returning to your home country and what you fear will happen to you if you return;
  • any events that involved you personally and relate to your asylum claim and fear of a specific person, organisation or group;
  • how you travelled to the UK and “if anything happened to you en route to the UK”;
  • anything that has happened in the UK that has made you afraid to return home.

You are asked to list all of the places you have lived in your home country over the past 5 years, and how long for; how many years you have spent in education and the schools you studied at; and your last job/employer in your home country.

The next section is about medical conditions, treatment, medication or other support you are receiving from a doctor/clinician (including mental health care).

There is then a lengthy section on family members. You have to give information about your spouse/partner if you have one; provide details of all your children; and if you have children in the UK and in school, you have to give information about the school(s). You also need to give details of your local authority and key worker, if you have been in touch with Social Services. You are then asked about any health conditions, mental health conditions, treatment or support any of your family members have.

Finally, there is an opportunity to explain any documents you wish to submit in support of your claim – it is very important to check with your lawyer whether or not it is a good idea to submit documents to the Home Office at this point.

You and anyone who has helped you with the form needs to sign the declaration at the end of the form.

Download the Preliminary Information Questionnaire here.


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