17 Oct 2013

Scrap immigration texts say men targeted in error

Two British citizens have yet to find out why they were sent official-looking texts questioning their right to stay in the UK, even though they have lived here legally for decades.

Anti-racism campaigner Suresh Grover, who became a British citizen automatically in 1966 at the age of nine, received the following text in August:

“Message from the Home Office. Our records show that you may not have leave to remain in the UK. Please contact us on 0844 3754636.”

Mr Grover rang the number to find out what was going on. He says the Capita employee at the other end of the line was unable to explain why his number had been texted. So Mr Grover put in a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office.

Asked how his number had been obtained, he got the following reply:

“Capita is provided with regular data drops of information detailing applications with a negative outcome on the Home Office immigration database. This data includes contact details that were provided by applicants at the time of, or subsequent to, making an application.”

Mr Grover, who has not been making any such application, told Channel 4 News “I still don’t know how they got my number.”

Capita signed the contract with the UK Border Agency in October 2012 to “trace and contact overstayers and assist them in removing the barriers to their return to their home countries.” The company says the payments-by-results deal could be worth “around £30m over four years”.

At the time it pledged to:

“assist the Agency (UKBA) contacting those who are in the UK by phone, email, letter or other means as appropriate.

“remind overstayers of the law and their obligations

“assist the progression of the cases to enforcement where the individual refuses to leave the UK voluntarily.”

In an October 2013 press release Alistair MacTaggart, the director of Capita secure border solutions, described what Capita offered as “efficient and cost effective” for the taxpayer.

But immigration adviser Bobby Chan also received a text in August. He points out that he applied successfully to the Home Office for British citizenship 30 years ago – long before mobile phones.

“At first I thought it was a laugh – you cannot be serious, the immigration [authority] is that incompetent. But just after I got it, Suresh [Grover] got it.” Mr Chan told Channel 4 News.

But he worries that others receiving such texts would find it much more disturbing, and – despite also making an FOI request – Mr Chan is no wiser as to why he received such a text.

He questions the value of the scheme:

“Realistically, I think it’s illogical. If I’m an illegal immigrant, do you think I’m going to reply? No, I am not.”

Capita told Channel 4 News in a statement:

“In order to assist the Home Office, we were asked to check two mobile phone numbers. We established that neither number received text messages or phone calls from Capita.”

Ongoing complaints

But whatever the origin of these texts, the Capita operation continues to draw criticism.

Alison Harvey, Legal Director of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), told Channel 4 News that “the ILPA is still receiving complaints from its members about misdirected messages.”

Mr Grover, after 30 years working with the victims of racial violence here in the UK, he says he wants the Home Secretary to look into this scheme, which he would like to see scrapped.

The Home Office told Channel 4 News:

We are taking proactive steps to contact individuals who records show have no valid right to be in the UK, some of which date back to December 2008.”

“Out of thousands of people contacted by Capita, a small number have been found to have the right to be in the UK or an outstanding application. Anyone contacted in error has been asked to get in touch with Capita to update their records.”