We regularly receive telephone calls and emails from people experiencing delays by the Home Office processing their visa and immigration applications.
It is deeply frustrating when the Home Office takes longer than stated on its website to process a visa or immigration application, especially when there are already significant delays in processing times due to the war in Ukraine.
Delays in Home Office processing times for UK visa and immigration applications can ruin travel plans, prolong uncertainty, and cause hardship by preventing applicants from working in the UK or spending time with loved ones.
This article sets out some of the common causes of delays and the ways in which you can chase the Home Office for a fast-track decision if you are experiencing delays in the processing of your UK visa or immigration application.
Is My UK Visa Application Definitely Delayed?
The Home Office publishes estimated waiting times for decisions on applications submitted inside and outside the UK on its website. It also publishes its Service Standards online. For an up-to-date summary of current UK visa processing and decision-waiting times please visit our post: UK Visa Processing & Decision Waiting Times.
Processing times have recently been affected by COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. For example, partner visa applications from outside the UK, which usually take 12 weeks to process, are currently taking up to 24 weeks to process from the date of biometric enrolment at a visa application centre.
Our recent post sets out the processing times of standard service applications for different kinds of applications.
The Home Office website indicates that, for applications made from inside the UK, the “waiting time starts once you’ve submitted your application online and ends when you get a letter or an email with a decision.” The exception is Graduate Immigration Route applications, where the waiting time starts when you attend your appointment at a service centre or you submit your documents using the ID Check app.
For applications made from outside the UK, the waiting time starts when you “attend your appointment and provide your fingerprints and a photograph (biometric information) at a visa application centre” or you “verify your identity using the UK Immigration: ID Check app. This will depend on the visa you apply for and you’ll be advised if you can use this.” The waiting time ends “when you get an email containing the decision on your application.”
Before submitting an immigration application, you should factor in additional time for the Home Office to issue and send you a BRP if this applies to your application. This is usually within 10 working days of the decision.
Why Has There Been a Delay in Processing My UK Visa or Immigration Application?
If you have not heard back from the Home Office and the published waiting time has elapsed, you should investigate the possible causes for the delay.
The Home Office website indicates that in order for applications to be processed within the service standards, applicants should ensure:
- your application is made before your current visa expires
- your application is completed accurately
- you include any required photographs
- you provide evidence of funds to maintain yourself if required on the application form and guidance
- you enrol your biometric information and respond to any requests for further information by the dates we ask you
- when you attend your appointment at our commercial partner or Service and Support Centre, you submit the required documents with your application
- if your application is made on a paper form
- it is signed and dated and made on the correct form, submitting the required documents
- you have included the payment and any cheque is signed and dated for the full fee
The Home Office’s guidance indicates that straightforward applications that meet these requirements should be handled within the standard processing time.
In the event of a problem with your application or the application being particularly complex, the Home Office “will write to explain why it will not be decided within the normal standard. We will write within the normal processing time for the 8 week standard and within 12 weeks for the 6 month standard. The letter will explain what will happen next.”
Possible reasons why your case might take longer than the standard processing time to decide are that:
- The Home Office wishes to interview you about your application;
- The Home Office needs further information from you;
- The Home Office is conducting external checks relating to your application (for example, with other government departments);
- The Home Office is processing a higher than usual volume of applications (e.g., just before seasonal holidays or sporting fixtures);
The Home Office’s Service Standards only apply to ‘complete’ applications: “If your application is incomplete at the time you complete your appointment the caseworker will consider whether the case should be excluded from the service standard.”
How to Chase a Delayed UK Visa or Immigration Decision in 6 Steps
Step 1: Contact UK Visas and Immigration for Assistance
If you are experiencing delays in processing your application and have not been contacted by the Home Office, the next step is to contact UK Visas and Immigration and ask for an update on the progress of your application. You will find the relevant contact details for the Home Office here.
UK Visas and Immigration should be able to advise you on why there has been a delay in processing your application and if there are any steps you should take to expedite the application.
It is advisable to keep a record of all calls and emails you have made to the Home Office regarding your application, including who you spoke to, when the call was made, and what information was given. The Home Office may provide you with ‘ticket’ numbers in email correspondence, which you should hold onto. You will need a record of these steps being taken in order to take further action to chase your immigration decision.
In calls and correspondence with the Home Office, you should refer to your Home Office reference number(s) and/or visa application number(s). These numbers can be found in correspondence with the Home Office and your downloaded application form(s). You should also mention when your application was submitted, when your biometrics were enrolled, and the published processing time on the Home Office website at the date of submission. You should also explain how the delay is impacting you and your family, for example, if it is affecting an employment offer or is separating you from loved ones.
It is advisable to ask for the matter to be escalated or fast-tracked as a matter of priority, and for the Home Office to refund you for the priority or super-priority service fee if you paid for this.
Step 2: Complain About UK Visas and Immigration
If contacting the Home Office does not avail you, the next step is to submit a complaint to UK Visas and Immigration using their online form. It is alternatively possible to write a letter to the complaints allocation hub or to email [emailprotected].
When using UKVI’s internal complaint procedure, you will need to provide the following information:
- your contact details – it is important you include your address and phone number as we may contact you to resolve your complaint by phone or to request further information
- the names of the applicant/original complainant if you’re completing this on behalf of someone else – we must have written authority to disclose information about another person’s case
- full details of the matter you’re complaining about, including times, dates and locations
- the names or identifying numbers of any staff you’ve dealt with
- details of any witnesses to the incident, if appropriate
- details of any reimbursement issues including papers and receipts to support your claim
- your Home Office reference details, and any other references that will help us to investigate your complaint, for example refund reference, appeal reference, UAN (unique application number), IHS reference and any payment references.
- if your complaint is in relation to our contact centre we will need to know the date you called, the number you dialled and the number you called us from
The Home Office website warns that it can take up to 20 days to receive a response to a complaint about waiting for a decision on an immigration application. Where a complaint suggests serious professional misconduct, it can take up to 12 weeks – UKVI should write to you to explain this.
You should include all details of previous communications with the Home Office, your reference numbers, your full name, your date of birth and all other relevant information in your complaint.
The complaints procedure for UK Visas and Immigration is set out on the government website. It indicates that complaints should be made “no later than 3 months after the date of the incident unless there are exceptional circumstances.”
The UKVI website states that it will “only respond to enquiries that are considered as complaints.” UKVI will “not respond to progress enquiries if you used our online complaints form.”
Step 3: Contact Your Local MP
If you have still not heard from the Home Office from the above steps, many of our clients have successfully asked their MPs to intervene on their behalf. The Parliament website indicates that you should contact your MP “[i]f you feel you have been treated unfairly by a Government office or agency”.
Writing a letter to your MP at the House of Commons, London SW1A OAA or emailing them using the Directory of MPs is the easiest way as you can ensure that you provide them with all of the information to your complaint, including details of the steps you have taken above.
Step 4: Complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
If your MP’s letter to the Home Office is unsuccessful, you may wish to ask your MP to refer your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. This service is free, but it can only be done if you have already utilised UKVI’s complaints procedure as set out above: “As we are the final stage for unresolved complaints, we usually expect you to complain to the organisation you are unhappy with first. This is so that it has the chance to look into your concerns and, where needed, put things right for you.” You must have made a formal complaint to the Home Office and waited 20 days before your MP can contact the Ombudsman for you.
As a matter of law, the Ombudsman may only investigate complaints about UK government departments if an MP refers the complaint to them. You may complete the complaint form on their behalf and ask your MP to sign and send it.
Step 5: Pre-Action Protocol Letter
If you have completed all of the above steps, you may consider seeking advice about taking legal action against the Home Office. As a matter of law, you are only able to take legal action against the Home Office as a last resort.
The first legal step is filing a pre-action protocol letter (PAP) on the Home Office.
Our immigration barristers will be able to advise you on whether there are merits in following the PAP process. You would need to show that the Home Office has unreasonably failed to act in relation to the exercise of its public function resulting in disadvantage such as losing a job or harm to your health. This is only likely to be appropriate where there have been delays resulting in significant harm to you, for example, loss of a job offer or being unable to spend time with sick family members. It would be important to have evidence of the steps you have already taken to obtain a decision, including evidence of prior communications with the Home Office.
If the Home Office does not respond within 14 days of receiving the PAP, you will be able to lodge a judicial review with the High Court.
Step 6: Judicial Review
Judicial review is a matter of last resort. It is a costly, complex and time-consuming process that involves challenging the Home Office’s delay before a judge. Before commencing JR proceedings, it is advisable to obtain legal advice on the merits of doing so.
Will the Home Office Compensate Me for the Delay in Deciding My Application?
Please note, pursuing the Home Office for compensation is not something we are able to assist with. The following information is provided for information only.
Following a complaint that seeks financial redress, the Home Office sometimes makes ex-gratia payments where “the customer has suffered actual financial loss or non-financial loss that is sufficiently compelling to warrant financial redress.” UKVI only makes ex-gratia payments to customers “as a redress for maladministration.”
Maladministration is “lack of care, judgement or honesty in the management of something”. Examples include the Home Office losing/defacing/invalidating documents or taking incorrect action such as endorsing a passport with the wrong conditions.
The Home Office guidance is clear that delays are not generally classed as maladministration: “Delays that have occurred due to operational constraints and limited resources, i.e. where a backlog of cases have occurred, are not classed as maladministration by Immigration Enforcement, Border Force or UK Visas & Immigration directorates.”
The guidance states that only in “exceptional circumstances” will financial redress be appropriate:
“Forms of redress such as an apology or remedial action may be called for when the complaint is about delay. Financial redress would only be appropriate in exceptional circumstances where the delay has also had a financial impact. Examples can include failure to take action on repeated requests from applicants regarding the return of a passport which then leads to financial loss, or a decision being made on an application and failing to serve that decision which then leads to financial losses, such as loss of access to benefits or being unable to take up a proven offer of employment or employment being terminated. Whether a delay should be considered as “reasonable” will be dependent on the circumstances and decision makers will take a case by case approach.”
Home Office maladministration cases should be pursued through the Ombudsman (see steps above).
Following certain judicial review proceedings, it is possible for courts to award damages in cases where the Home Office has been negligent in performing its common law duty of care causing the appellant loss for which they should be compensated in damages. This has been found to be the case where an applicant experienced a delay of several years in receiving his BRP. However, any financial remedy will be compensatory in nature and there is no guarantee that the cost of legal representation will be covered.