Last updated: 19 April 2023
The asylum substantive interview is the big interview in the asylum process when the Home Office interviewer will ask in detail about your reasons for claiming asylum in the UK.
It can be a very long and difficult interview. The substantive interview could be the most important part of your asylum application. For this reason, it is very important to prepare for it.
This page is here to help you, whether or not you have a lawyer representing you.
On this page, you will find the following information:
- What is the substantive interview?
- What happens before the interview
- Preparing for the interview, including:
- What happens at the interview, including:
- Questions you may be asked
- After the interview
Click on the buttons below for translated summaries of this page:
Video in other languages:
What is the substantive interview?
The asylum substantive interview is the big interview in the asylum process when the Home Office interviewer will ask in detail about your reasons for claiming asylum. It can be a very long and difficult interview. The interview may last several hours and you will be asked lots of questions. You may be asked the same questions several times in different ways. You can learn more about this in the ‘Questions you may be asked’ section below.
You need to be very clear when answering questions, give as much detail as possible, and try to remember to include all the important information about yourself and your reasons for claiming asylum.
When you are invited to attend your asylum substantive interview, you should get a letter telling you the date, time, and location of the interview. The letter should also tell you whether your interview will be happening in person or by video link. Even if your interview will happen by video link, you will still have to travel to a Home Office interview centre to log on to the video link there.
Your interview will be held in a small room in a Home Office interviewing centre. You will sit at a table, with the Home Office interviewer on the other side. They will usually have a computer in front of them. The interpreter – if you need one – will usually sit near to the Home Office interviewer.
For people who have their substantive interviews conducted by video call, the person seeking asylum sits in a room in one location, and the Home Office interviewer and interpreter sit in another location, and the interview takes place over a video link. This means the interview is automatically recorded. You can learn more about having your interview via video link, and how to prepare for it by reading our Legal Update blog.
If you are an adult and you have a legal aid lawyer, they will not normally attend the substantive interview with you. This is because of the rules about the time they are allowed to spend on a case. If you are being held in immigration detention at the time of your substantive interview, your lawyer will be allowed to attend under legal aid rules and so may attend the interview with you.
In general, you cannot take a friend or supporter into the interview with you. In exceptional circumstances, however, you can request that someone accompanies you for emotional or medical support.
The guidance for Home Office interviewers says:
“Exceptionally… and with advance notice, you may allow a friend or other companion of the claimant to be present to provide emotional or medical support. For example, if an interviewer of the requested gender has not been possible. Alternatively, a claimant may benefit from the presence of a supporter from their faith group or non-religious organisation before or during the interview, and this can also be accommodated exceptionally and where advance notice is provided.”
Unfortunately, many people are waiting for months – sometimes even one or two years – to have their substantive interview. This is very frustrating and distressing, because it feels like your life is paused.
It is important to understand that delays in interview scheduling are not your fault, and not because your case is weak. It is because there is a big backlog of more than 160,000 asylum decisions that have not yet been made by the Home Office. You can learn more about what is causing these delays by reading our Legal Update blog.
You can watch our video about delays, too:
However, it is very important to use this time to be ready for when the date of the interview finally arrives. The interview is challenging, and can often be upsetting. You should be prepared to tell your story so that you are in the best position to further your case. You can learn more about preparing for the substantive interview in the ‘Preparing for your interview’ section below.
What happens before the interview
It is important to note that it is currently very difficult to find an immigration or asylum lawyer to represent you. This is because of a number of reasons, including the Home Office backlog on asylum decisions mentioned above. There are more people who need a lawyer than there are lawyers available to represent them.
If you have a lawyer, you should meet with them at least once before your substantive interview. Your lawyer should ask you to tell them your story before the interview with the Home Office.
The Home Office sends a document called a “Preliminary Information Questionnaire” (this is sometimes called a “PIQ form”) to many – but not all – people before the substantive interview. These are meant to provide information for the Home Office about your claim to focus the interview questions. It’s very important that if you are issued with one of these forms, you try and get a legal representative to help you fill it in. If incorrect information is given in these forms, and the information does not match what you say in your interviews and other evidence, this may be used to refuse your asylum claim. If you cannot find a lawyer, you can email the Home Office to explain that you have not filled in the form because you are searching for a lawyer, and you can request an extension of the deadline (this means ask for more time) for this reason.
If you do not receive a PIQ form, do not worry – not everyone receives one. Your interview will still be scheduled as usual.
Your lawyer may also submit a written statement before the interview. If you are going to be explaining very upsetting events, this might be a useful thing to do, so that you do not have to be asked so many detailed questions about events. Not all lawyers will do this, as some lawyers think it can be risky to submit a statement in advance that the Home Office interviewer can then “test” you on during the interview.
You may have documentary evidence to support your story. Documentary evidence might be something like a political party membership card, an arrest warrant, a birth certificate, or newspaper articles about you or about persecution of people like you. Not everyone will have this, because documentary evidence can be hard to get because of the circumstances in which you had to leave your country. You may have or want to get evidence of medical or psychological problems, which you can learn more about by clicking here.
If you are going to submit any documentary evidence, make sure you have shown this to your lawyer beforehand and they have agreed it should be submitted. You can either give this evidence to the Home Office at the interview, or shortly after the interview. If you do not have a lawyer, take a look at our Toolkit page on Evidence to consider whether this is a good piece of evidence, or a piece of evidence that the Home Office would rather not receive.
If you have a preference, you have the right to request a male or female interviewer, and the Home Office will usually grant this request. If you want to be interviewed by an interviewer of a particular gender, make sure you request this as soon as possible. If you request it just before the interview, it is unlikely the Home Office will be able to arrange this. You can also request a male or female interpreter, if you will be requiring an interpreter for the interview.
It is your legal right and it is Home Office policy to audio record the interview, as well as record the written transcript. You should be provided with copies of both the audio and written record after your interview. You can read more about the Home Office’s interview recording policy from page 27 of the guidance document here.
If you cannot attend the interview, you must provide very good reasons for this, through your lawyer if you have one. If you are ill, get a note from the doctor; if there are transport problems, get evidence of this from the transport company.
Without good reasons and evidence of these good reasons, the Home Office may refuse to rearrange your interview and make a decision on your application based on the information they have so far (and this is very likely to be a refusal of your claim).
Preparing for the interview
The asylum substantive interview may be one of the most important stages of the asylum process for you, especially if it is going to be your main form of evidence.
It’s very important to prepare for the interview. If you have a lawyer, you should meet with them before the day of the interview (see section above).
There are also lots of things that you, your friends, and community volunteers can do so that you are in the best situation possible when you have your interview even if you do not have a lawyer.
Your testimony in the asylum interview may be the only evidence you can provide. You are going to be asked questions about things that may be very difficult to talk about. Try and think about ways you can try and remain calm and protect yourself when talking about emotional issues.
You may find it helpful to practise in advance of the interview, using the guidance below about questions you may be asked. Is there someone you trust you can do a “mock” or practice interview with? Remember, if your friend/supporter is playing the part of the Home Office interviewer, they should not be too friendly!
Are there parts of your story that don’t make sense to them? Is this because there are things you’ve forgotten to say? Or are there things that don’t seem that important to you but are crucial to explaining the story to someone who wasn’t there?
Some people find it useful to write down the important points of the story, or draw symbols and pictures, to get it straightened out in their head before they are asked questions in the interview (often in a confrontational way). You will not be able to take these into the interview with you, however.
You may wish to write, or tell a friend who will write it for you, a timeline of the events that took place leading up to you having to leave your country. Discuss this with a friend, and it may prompt memories of important facts or details that you had forgotten. However, remember that you will not be allowed to take any notes into the interview with you on the day.
Be prepared, but in your interview try not to sound like you are repeating a script from memory or sound rehearsed, as this may seem like you are not telling the truth.
Make sure you know where your interview will be. Maybe visit the place in advance of the interview. How will you get there on the day of the interview? How long will it take to get there? Being late or being lost may add to your stress on the day.
Be prepared for not being believed: sometimes the Home Office interviewer will say they do not believe you, or make comments hinting at this. This can be very upsetting, but you just stick to your story and try to stay as calm as possible.
In the interview, you need to be very clear, give as much detail as possible, and try to remember to include all the important information.Have friends and community members around to talk to before and after the interview. This is a crucial time for emotional support and community from those around you.
You can use this illustrated rough guide to the asylum interview to help you prepare for the asylum substantive interview. It was made by a volunteer in Sheffield and is based on this Right to Remain guide.
What happens at the interview?
Your rights during the interview
- You have the right to request a male or female interviewer, and a male or female interpreter. Make this request as far in advance as possible.
- If you are not feeling well, you are tired, or you are upset because of having to think about what has happened to you, tell the interviewer this.
- If you need a break during the interview, ask for one – this is your right, do not be afraid to ask.
- If you would like some water to drink during the interview – ask. This is your right.
- If you do not understand the question that is being asked, you can ask the interviewer or interpreter to repeat the question or rephrase it for you to better understand.
- If you think there is a problem with interpretation, say so as soon as possible, and ask for this to be noted on the interview record.
- If there were things you forgot to say, or said wrong, or felt you were not given time to explain, or if there were any other problems during the interview, make sure this is noted when you are asked, towards the end of the interview, “Is there anything else you want to add?”
- Make sure you are given a copy of the audio recording and the written transcript at the end of the interview.
- If you forgot something during the interview or answered incorrectly, it is your right to write to the Home Office after the interview to correct this information (with reasons for why you did not provide these answers on the interview day). Make sure to do this as soon as possible. If you have a lawyer, they can help you do this.
Audio recording and written record
It is your legal right to have the interview audio-recorded, and the Home Office does this automatically. The Home Office interviewer also makes written notes (this is called a transcript) of the questions they ask and your answers. Copies of both of these records should be given to you immediately after the interview. If you have a lawyer, they will need a copy too.
These records are important, and you should read through the written transcript as soon as you can. For example, it may become clear later that your asylum claim has been refused because of something the Home Office said you said when in fact you didn’t, or something was written down wrong, or was misinterpreted.
If your case is refused and goes to appeal, your lawyer can listen to the audio recording and compare this to what has been written down (with the help of an interpreter if necessary). If you don’t have a lawyer, you can do this yourself.
If you require an interpreter, the Home Office will provide one for the interview. You should let the Home Office know as soon as possible what language (and specific dialect) you require, and also whether you have a preference for the gender of the interpreter.
If there are any problems with the interpreter – for example, if you cannot understand them, they cannot understand you, they speak a different dialect, you don’t think they are being professional or you can tell they aren’t interpreting things correctly – it is very important to tell the Home Office interviewer and ask them to write it down. This will then go on the record, which is important because if you later say that there was an issue with the interpreter but didn’t mention it at the interview, the Home Office will question why you didn’t raise the issue sooner.
After the interview, you should also inform your lawyer if you have one if there were problems with the interpreter (or any other problems), but it is far better if it has been recorded at the time of interview.
If there are mistakes in your testimony because of poor interpretation during the interview, and these are used to refuse your asylum claim, it will be much easier to respond to the reasons for refusal letter if the problems were noted during the interview.
Major problems with interpretation will be impossible to ignore – for example, if you do not understand the interpreter at all, or they do not understand you. But it is important to watch out for small problems too. Little things that are misinterpreted can have a big impact on your case. This might be something like the wrong date being used.
It may be that there isn’t a direct equivalent in your language for a word in English and therefore the wrong word is used. For example, in some languages there is no separate word for “wrist” and “elbow” and “shoulder”, the word “arm” is used for all these. This can cause problems, especially when talking about injuries, and torture.
The wrong grammar may cause a problem – are “he” and “she” being used correctly? Are you talking about one person but it is being interpreted into English as two people?
You may speak enough English to notice these errors, in which case you should correct them during the interview. Or it may not be until you, your lawyer, or one of your supporters looks at the transcript of the interview, that you realise there are errors.
This is why it is important to be active in your case, and to read all records that are provided to you from the Home Office of your interview records, so that you can correct or explain any mistakes as soon as possible.
Childcare is now available at certain Home Office centres during the asylum substantive interviews for male and female single parents with children under 5 years old. You should inform the Home Office as soon as possible in advance that you will need childcare during the interview – you can ask your lawyer to do this, or you can do it yourself.
Some Home Office centres have childcare facilities, but some do not. If there are no childcare facilities, you will have to arrange childcare (for example, perhaps a supporter you trust could pick your children up from school and take care of them), or reschedule the date of the interview, because unfortunately you cannot take children to the interview or Home Office centre with you.
The Home Office guidance says the following:
Claimants who are invited to interview who have young children that require childcare and who are unable to make alternative care arrangements, should contact the Home Office using the contact number provided on the invite to interview letter to discuss options available. This will include whether there is any scope to secure creche facilities at or near the interview location, or whether the interview will need to be rescheduled. The current sites offering childcare provision are:
The childcare provision varies at each site: some are based in UKVI offices, others are in a nursery facility within a three-mile radius. A leaflet providing relevant information about childcare provision and how to book must be included with the invitation to interview letter.
Questions you may be asked at the interview
Although these questions may seem basic, these details could be used against you. You must give consistent answers about yourself, in this and other interviews/statements that you provide to the Home Office.
- What is your date of birth? If you do not know your date of birth, don’t make one up. You can say that you do not know your date of birth, and explain why. If you give an estimate of your date of birth, explain it is a guess and what you are basing the guess on.
- What is your nationality? The Home Office may say they don’t believe you are the nationality you say you are. In your interview, give as much information and details as you can about where you are from. For example, which area did you live in? Where did you go to school? How many people lived there? What were the local languages?
- Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence? If you were imprisoned/convicted in your country of origin as a result of persecution from the authorities, and you are now seeking asylum because of this persecution, give as much detail as possible. When were you arrested? By whom? For what reason? How long did you spend in prison? What were the conditions like? Did you ever go to court? Why were you released?
- Do you speak other languages? If you speak other languages, the interviewer will want to know how you know these. If you didn’t have a formal education or you are from a country with a poor education system, the Home Office may say they don’t believe you. You must explain how you know these languages. If you are not fluent in these languages, say so. Otherwise, the Home Office may try to interview you in these languages instead of your mother tongue.
About your journey
- When did you leave your country? If you are not sure which date you left your country, give the answer as close as possible. What month was it, what year? Explain why you are not sure. Try to give any details you can about the time of year. Was it winter or summer? Was it around Ramadan or another festival? Was it around the harvest or another important time of year? If you give different dates in different interviews, this will be used to doubt your story.
- Did you travel through other countries on your way to the UK? How was this arranged? How much did it cost? How long did it take? What form of transport did you use? How long did you spend in the different places you travelled through?
- Did you claim asylum in any of the other countries you have travelled through? If you did not claim asylum in another country on the way to the UK, the Home Office will want to know why.
Remember that the Home Office may use what you say in this interview as evidence to make a decision about the “inadmissibility” of your asylum claim. Since January 2021, if the Home Office thinks that you travelled through a “safe country” on your way to the UK, they can decide to investigate whether your claim should be treated as inadmissible. While your claim is being considered under these rules, your asylum claim will not move forward in the UK.
However, at the time of writing, though people who have claimed asylum in the UK have been issued notices of inadmissibility, there is currently no country that they can be sent to. This means that the Inadmissibility Rules policy has not been carried out fully. Read our Toolkit page on the Inadmissibility Rules to better understand what really happens if someone’s claim is flagged as potentially inadmissible.
Why are you claiming asylum?
- Why can’t you return to your country? What could happen to you if you did?
- You should tell the Home Office about any specific events that have happened to you, giving as much detail as you can. Where possible, include the dates of these events – but remember to say if you are not sure of the date. Being persecuted in the past does not in itself mean you are in need of protection – you need to show you are at risk of something happening if you were returned to your country now.
- Was there a specific event which made you leave your country? Was it just one event that made you leave? If you’d been suffering persecution over time, what was it about that final event or threat that made you leave at that point?
- You should try and give your answers about events in chronological order. See section on “dates and times” below.
- If you didn’t leave your country immediately after an incident that put you or people you know in danger, why was there a delay?
- Has the threat affected other people? Has anyone in your family experienced the same treatment?
- If your family or other people persecuted in the same way did not leave the area, why didn’t they leave? Why did you leave and they didn’t? If you left family members behind, did you put any measures in place to try and ensure their safety?
- If family members or other people in similar situations to you haven’t been threatened, explain why you have.
- If you left your country a long time ago and you are not in contact with your family, the interviewer may ask you how you know information about your home country now. If you’re not in contact with your family, how do you know you would still be at risk if returned? If you are in contact with your family in your country of origin and they are in danger/are being persecuted, it may be helpful to get as much details/documentary evidence about this as possible (without putting them at risk).
- If your child/children are with you in the UK and are included in your asylum claim, the Home Office will ask questions about whether they have separate reasons from you for needing asylum. Read more in our legal blog post here. The relevant Home Office guidance is here (which you can read from page 11).
Remember: in this interview, you are explaining why you need international protection. This means why you specifically would be in danger if you were returned to your country. This is different from why you came to the UK, which the Home Office may also ask you about. You may have specific reasons for wanting to come to the UK. These might include personal contacts, family, friends, religious, political or community connections. Make sure that you are clear in your answers – are you talking about why you wouldn’t be safe in your country; or why, when finding somewhere to be safe, you chose to come to the UK (if you did choose)?
Who is responsible?
- Who are you in danger from? The government, military or police? If you are not in danger from the authorities, but from a ‘non-state agent’, you will need to explain why you can’t get protection from the authorities. If you are describing events that have already happened to you, did you report what happened to you? If not, why not?
- Would you be safe going to live elsewhere in the country? The Home Office may say you are only in danger in one village, city or region and you could ‘relocate’ somewhere else.
- If you have already tried going to another area of your country to escape from danger, explain why you could not stay there. If you stayed there for a while, what made you leave in the end?
You can read more about these issues on the What is Asylum? page of this guide.
Arrest or imprisonment
- If you were imprisoned in your home country as part of your persecution, you will need to explain how you were released, or if you escaped then you need to explain how you managed this. The Home Office is usually very suspicious of escape stories – be clear about how this was possible, and don’t assume the Home Office knows anything about how this could work in your country.
- Are other people facing longer sentences/torture, and might this happen to you if you were imprisoned again?
- If you were mistreated while you were imprisoned, make sure to give information about this. Were there bad conditions? For example, many people sharing a small cell, withholding of food rations, no “yard” time outside, or were you kept in isolation? Did you experience torture?
Dates, times, and cultural issues
During the interview, you may be asked to fit your story into a chronological timeline, perhaps in a way you are not used to.
Alternatively, during the interview, the interviewer may jump around from event to event which can be very confusing. Take your time answering questions and think about what you want to say before speaking. You might find it easier to draw a timeline of events – ask the interviewer if this is possible.
If you cannot remember a date, say you cannot remember. You may not be able to remember an event by a day or month but by the weather, the season or a family occurrence. You can explain these instead if you are sure of them. If there are ways of marking time that make more sense to you than an official calendar, such as an important church service or jobs you do as a farmer at a similar time every year, use these. For example, you may remember that something happened during Ramadan, or after the harvest. Or that it was winter, because the nights were cold.
If you guess a date, and then say a different date at a different point in the interview or a later stage of your application, this will be used to doubt your story.
Be clear about which calendar you are using. Always do this, whether speaking to your lawyer, an interpreter, the Home Office, or a judge. It is better not to switch between calendars as this can lead to mistakes. If you are used to using the Persian calendar, or the Ethiopian calendar, use that throughout your testimony and it will be converted to the UK calendar by the Home Office or your lawyer (if you have one). If you have a lawyer, you can ask them to check that the dates have been converted properly by the Home Office, an interpreter or by themselves.
Be aware that the person interviewing you may know very little about your country and/or culture. This can lead to misunderstandings in the interview, and ultimately to a refusal of your asylum claim. For example, you may use the word “auntie” or “uncle” to refer to someone you know. In the UK, these words usually have specific meanings – the brother or sister of your mother or father. If you use the word “uncle” in the broader meaning (not someone blood-related to you), for example if you said “my uncle in Kabul helped me”, it will cause confusion if you later say you haven’t got any family in Kabul.
Difficult to talk about
In the asylum substantive interview, you may have to talk about difficult experiences, and remembering these events can be upsetting. It is important, however, to try and give enough detail about the events to explain them to someone who wasn’t there, isn’t from your country, and to explain why these events led to you having to leave your country.
Giving details about a physical or sexual assault can be particularly distressing, but your testimony will be used to make a decision on your asylum claim. It is therefore important to include as much information as you can, such as:
- who attacked you
- what they were wearing
- if they were police or army or secret police (and their rank if you know it)
- what they did to you
- how often it happened, particularly if you were in prison/detention at the time
- who else was present;
- how you managed to survive.
Medical or psychological problems
Do you have any medical or psychological problems? Are these a result of torture/mistreatment in your home country?
You should tell the Home Office about these, and show them any evidence of this. If you have scars on your body, you can tell the interviewer this. You should also speak to your lawyer about getting a ‘scarring’ report, or other medico-legal report. Read more about evidence of medical or psychological problems in our blog post here.
After the interview
Soon after the interview, perhaps the next day, you should go through the written record of the interview (the “transcript”) to check for any mistakes or misunderstandings in your answers, or how they were written down, or in the interpretation. You might find it useful to have a friend to help you with this. It may be several months before you receive your asylum decision based on this interview, so it is best to look for potential problems while it is still fresh in your mind.
A statement may also be submitted after the interview, particularly if there are things you weren’t given a chance to explain or you think there were problems with the interview. You can do this of your own accord, or the Home Office might even get in touch with you to ask for clarification of certain points.
If you have a lawyer, make sure you have an appointment booked with them to discuss how the interview went, and to submit a statement to the Home Office to correct any mistakes or misunderstandings in the interview or interview record.
After your substantive interview, the Home Office will look at the information you gave in your screening interview and then in your substantive interview. The person making the decision on your asylum claim may be the same person who interviewed you, or it may be someone different.
They will check if there are any differences, or things they don’t think make sense, or that they don’t think are true. They will look at the information they have about your country, and decide whether they think you are telling the truth and whether you need protection in the UK.
You may have documentary evidence that you wish to submit to the Home Office to support your asylum claim. Documentary evidence might include a political party membership card, an arrest warrant, a birth certificate, or newspaper articles about you or about persecution of people like you. Not everyone will have this, because documentary evidence can be hard to get because of the circumstances in which you had to leave your country. You may have or want to get evidence of medical or psychological problems. Read about that in our blog post here.
If you are going to submit any documentary evidence, make sure you have shown this to your lawyer beforehand and they have agreed it should be submitted. You can either give this evidence to the Home Office at the interview, or shortly after the interview.
You are able to submit further evidence after the interview, or to clarify your answers if you checked through the transcript and found mistakes or remembered things you didn’t mention during the interview. Generally, you (or your lawyer) should contact the Home Office to ask for a reasonable period of time to submit this information before they provide you with a decision on your case.
The Home Office guidance says the following:
… unless the claimant or legal representative asks for time to provide further information and you agree a reasonable time for them to provide it. Legal representatives must notify the Home Office of the availability of further information and are expected to provide all information relevant to their client’s case at the earliest opportunity.
Although the interview is the primary opportunity to clarify unclear statements or inconsistencies within statements or other evidence or with country information material to the claim, you [the Home Office interviewer] have the discretion to seek explanations in writing or by telephone after the interview.
For example, where country information research finds information which directly contradicts the claimant’s statements or appears to do so, it would be good practice for both the claimant and the Home Office to clarify the matter in further correspondence, rather than defer the issue to the appeal stage. Where the claimant is represented, all contact must normally be made through their nominated legal representative, except where there are safeguarding concerns.
It can take a long time to get a decision on your asylum claim from the Home Office. You may have to wait several months, maybe even more than a year. You can read more about Home Office delays in providing asylum decisions here.
It’s very important to be prepared for a refusal (the Home Office denies your asylum claim) so you can take action very quickly.