New report shines a light on major failures at the Home Office in dealing with immigration and border-related issues

Poor handling of immigration-related complaints is a key reason why the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman upholds almost seven in ten complaints about the Home Office, according to a new report published today.

The top reason for the complaints were delays, which left many people separated from their loved ones, denied access to education or forced into the informal economy where they can face abuse.

Poor decision making was the second issue highlighted in the report, cited in more than one in four upheld complaints about the Home Office.

The report outlines the unresolved complaints the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigated about all government departments last year.

More than two thirds of the 158 complaints investigated about the Home Office and its immigration agencies, Border Force, UK Visas and Immigration and Immigration Enforcement, were upheld last year, more than double the average for public sector organisations.

The report provides detailed information about the 'big four' departments: the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which make up 85 per cent of complaints about government departments and agencies.

The top reasons for complaints across all departments and their agencies were about not receiving a proper apology when something had gone wrong, not acknowledging a mistake or poor decision making.

Both DWP and the HMRC stand out as organisations with effective second tier complaint systems in place, which the report highlights as contributing to their low uphold rates of 22 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. Both departments also demonstrate a desire to learn from complaints and improve their services, according to the report.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

Millions of people receive great public services every day. But when things go wrong it's important that complaints are handled effectively. People complain about poor public services because they want things put right and because they don't want the same thing happening to someone else.

'Too many people's lives have been put on hold for years by the Home Office because of delays and poor decisions. We have seen far too many cases where people have been separated from their loved ones, unable to work and where their children have been denied access to education.

'It is the responsibility of every board of every UK government department and agency to recognise the profound impact poor services can have on people's lives and make sure they learn from complaints to improve services for all.'

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes final decisions on complaints about UK government departments, their agencies and the NHS in England. Last year, it investigated 885 complaints about government departments and their agencies and upheld 33 per cent.

Notes to editors

  1. Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigation summaries:

    Teenager waited almost ten years for a Home Office decision costing him stable employment and educational support. The Home Office accepted a mother as a refugee, giving her permission to stay permanently in the UK. The family reunion policy meant that her children could join her. Her son came to the UK later in the year, just before his 18th birthday. He needed to ask the Home Office for fresh permission to stay in the UK after he turned 18 and did so. However, his application ended up travelling with his mother's Home Office file for the next nine-and-a-half years. Officials made decisions on citizenship applications from the mother and younger sister but continued to overlook his application and requests for updates. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found that the serious delay limited him to unstable and short-term jobs and he missed out on the support that other 18 year olds could have had. The Home Office apologised and paid him £7,500 as an apology for the effect of its serious mistakes, particularly the frustration and uncertainty identified.

    HMRC comes up short in its complaints handling. A man complained to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman about HMRC after discovering that his father had not received an age-related tax allowance to which he had been entitled. In the process of the investigation the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found evidence of poor complaints handling, such as delayed decision making and poor communications. However, it did not uphold this aspect of the complaint because it was clear that HMRC's second tier complaints system, the Adjudicator's Office, had resolved the issue by recommending that HMRC apologise and make a consolatory payment of £125.

  2. For more information contact Steven Mather on 0300 061 4324 or email or Marina Soteriou on 0300 061 4996 or email
  3. The report provides an overview of our casework about UK government departments and agencies, and some UK public organisations in 2014-15. It gives details of the number of complaints we received, the outcomes of those complaints, and the main reasons that led people to complain to us.
  4. In 2013, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman moved from investigating hundreds of complaints to thousands. It did this so it could give more people a final decision on their complaint. In 2014-15 it carried out a total of 4,159 investigations – almost twice as many as in 2013-14 (2,199), and ten times more than in 2012-13 (384). As a result it is difficult to compare the data year on year.
  5. Just over 21% (885) of all our investigations last year were about UK government departments, their agencies and other UK public organisations, compared to 79% (3,274) about the NHS in England.
  6. People can bring their complaints about the NHS to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman directly. Complaints about UK government departments, agencies and other UK public organisations need to be referred by a Member of Parliament.