Sanwar Ali comment:
The ICO Information Commissioners Office has a history of bias and seems to be too cosy in its relationship towards other Regulators, and it seems UK visa at the Home Office as well. Too much of the time they seem to be terrified of upsetting Government officials or crypto Government officials.
If you make perfectly reasonable and well thought out complaints relating to failure to provide information you may be accused of being “vexatious”. This behaviour by the ICO can perhaps best be described as being rude and obnoxious. Regulators also seem to think they can ignore complaints and seem to think that they can ignore their own Equality Policy and complaints relating to racial discrimination.
The ICO should go out of its way to help the public obtain information. Currently too much of the time by failing to act they help Government Departments and others cover up racial discrimination, shocking abuses of power, bad decision making and other dodgy practices. Therefore, it is not surprising that the ICO has failed to respond to complaints from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants JCWI. One Regulator we know of has failed to respond to complaints for more than ten years.
Bizarre reasons are given by the ICO for not requiring a public body to answer a Freedom of Information request. One such reason is that it might cause embarrassment to public officials and might annoy them! Another reason given is that to provide information that would potentially correct a shocking injustice, would be too much of a burden to a public body! Isn’t this the sort of attitude that you might see in the Third Reich.
The mismanagement of UK visa and immigration files by the Home Office is causing people to be wrongly detained and deported, immigrant campaigners claim. According to immigrant rights’ groups, government failures to comply with its legal duty to supply vital information held on immigrants means immigration officers are wrongly detaining people.
Campaign groups claim that immigrants being detained face the prospect of being deported from the UK because the Home Office is ‘preventing access to justice.’ The Home Office is accused of ‘routinely failing’ to respond to requests to hand over files containing the immigration history of UK visa applicants.
Immigrant rights’ groups argue that the Home Office is deliberately withholding the information, leaving visa applicants unable to challenge Home Office decisions.
Data protection laws inadequate to protect the Public
Under data protection laws, any person has the legal right to request access to personal information held about them by an organisation or public body. This can be done by submitting a subject access request (SAR), which must be responded to within a month.
If an organisation requires extra time to meet a request, it must inform the person requesting the information. However, it’s understood that for UK immigration-related requests, the Home Office repeatedly fails to honour the one-month deadline or notify people of delays.
In some cases, the Home Office is accused of not responding at all, until threatened with litigation. Workpermit.com recently reported that more than half of Home Office decisions that go to appeal are overturned when a case gains media exposure.
Meanwhile, the Home Office has come under severe criticism in recent years for its handling of the Windrush scandal, the repeated loss of sensitive personal data and poor decision making on UK visa and immigration applications.
Experts say that Home Office failures to provide information when requested has massive implications for people trying to prove or legalise their UK status, especially for those unable to afford to pay for advice.
Countless stories of people affected by failings of ICO and UK Visa
A special report by The Independent documents countless stories of people’s lives affected by the Home Office’s failure to release information when requested, including the case of Dean Ablakwa.
Mr Ablakwa was deported to Ghana in 2017, despite being born in the UK, working as an NHS nurse and having no criminal record. He has so far been unable to challenge the Home Office’s decision to deport him, having received no response to a SAR submitted in February 2019.
As a result, Mr Ablakwa is currently classified as stateless, living in Accra, Ghana’s capital city and unable to work. He said: “I feel like the Home Office is intentionally doing this to prolong it or make me want to give up. It’s been excuse upon excuse. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s like they’re just beating around the bush.”
“I’m not even able to feel like a normal human being here. People here are actually moving forward, and I’m stuck and have been for two years. My mental health is really bad. I can’t sleep at night. I feel like I’m in prison,” Mr Ablakwa said.
“I had plans, things to look forward to. But my life has been put on hold. I feel very lost. I don’t trust the Home Office. They do whatever they want,” he added.
Legal director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), Nicola Burgess, expressed concern over the difficulties people are facing retrieving information from the Home Office, especially since the Windrush scandal.
Ms Burgess said: “From an immigration point of view, getting the full file of papers from the Home Office is vital to progress a client’s case. The defendant in these cases is the government, so immediately there is an inequality of arms. The state has a record of everything, clients don’t always have it all.”
Information Commissioner’s Office failing in their responsibilities
Meanwhile, Ms Burgess argued that ongoing problems with the Home Office are fuelled by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s data protection watchdog, which deals with complaints about failure to respond to SARs. Burgess claims that the ICO does not take complaints about the Home Office’s failure to respond to SARs seriously.
In a letter written to the ICO in 2017, the JCWI raised the issue. However, the ICO failed to reply. According to The Independent, when the ICO was asked about this, a spokesperson said: “The ICO made contact with the Home Office about its SAR performance and decided that no further regulatory action was needed at the time.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Individuals can submit a SAR to request a full copy of their Home Office file. We aim to respond to individuals within one month of their identity being verified. However, given the complexity of some cases this is not always possible.”
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