Decades-old Home Office asylum system misses EOL deadline, no new timetable in place

Replacement due more than a decade ago, Casework Information Database soldiers on as case backlog hits record highs

Exclusive The UK’s Home Office has failed to meet its own deadline for the retirement of a decades-old immigration database in a program vital to cutting the backlog of asylum claims, currently at historic highs.

The government department in charge of policing, immigration and borders said plans to end use of the Casework Information Database (CID), which dates from 2000 [PDF] and was written in Visual Basic 6, by September this year had been axed, with no replacement timetable in place.

A Home Office official told The Reg the department was still "working at pace to decommission CID to improve efficiency for all caseworkers."

Last month, government figures showed the asylum claim backlog was at a record high, as more than 175,000 people were stuck in the application process for refugee status at the end of June 2023, an increase of 44 percent year-on-year.

In June, the UK’s public spending watchdog reported that asylum caseworkers were expected to use CID and its replacement, dubbed Atlas, and had to “double key” information between them. “The Home Office told us this ended in April 2023,” the National Audit Office said [PDF] at the time.

“The Home Office expects to decommission its old system by September 2023, but progress will depend on managing competing demands for design and digital capacity from other Home Office digital programmes, such as the Future Border and Immigration System,” the NAO added.

Home Office officials said double keying into CID and Atlas ended for 90 percent of cases in October 2022 with the remainder ceasing double keying in June 2023. The department did not disclose why it was necessary to keep CID up and running.

The NAO said the new technology programme is part of the drive to improve the productivity of caseworkers, but “delays developing Atlas have affected caseworker productivity and senior programme staff told us that it could impact progress on the Programme if delays continue”.

The Home Office had also told the Infrastructure and Projects Authority - the joint Cabinet Office-Treasury unit tracking major government projects - that it would retire CID before September. In a submission to the IPA, the Home Office said its “increased delivery confidence is due to the Programme delivering to schedule against the revised 2022… plan and remaining on track to close September 2023."

The risk rating for the Immigration Platform Technologies programme, which replaces a number of systems including CID, moved from Red in Q4 21/22 (an IPA score) to Amber in Q4 22/23-Q4 (a rating from the department’s senior responsible owner).

Among the justifications for the improved rating was that the "revised plan, which schedules programme closure in September 2023, received approval April 2022 and the Programme is delivering to schedule."

According to an NAO report in 2004 [PDF] CID “started as a database containing basic details about asylum seekers and was initially expected to be an interim solution."

The Home Office had launched a Casework Programme in 1996, “with the aim of developing a bespoke, paperless casework system," the NAO said. It awarded the contract to Siemens Business Services under the controversial Private Finance Initiative.

In a 1999 report, the government auditors commented on the delay in finishing the system and in 2001, the Home Office stopped further development of the system, instead choosing to continue developing on the CID.

The CID system was set to be replaced by an Immigration Case Work (ICW) system in December 2008, which was intended to support applications for visas and immigration. But the department was forced to write off £347 million spent on ICW in 2013. In 2014, the National Audit Office found that the CID system is plagued by problems such as freezing, a "lack of interface with other systems, resulting in manual data transfer or cross-referencing," and a lack of controls.

A random paper from government IT research group Kable says CID was maintained by French outsourcer Atos at a cost of around £4.7 million a year. It is based on an Oracle database with an application built in Visual Basic 6, which was released in 1998.

In 2014, member of parliament James Brokenshire, then Minister for Security and Immigration, wrote to the Public Accounts Committee chairman to say that “much work has been done on the legacy systems (CID) since 2012 to stabilise performance and make them more resilient, to reduce both the number and severity of IT incidents that affect immigration operations." ®

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