Immigration officials admit 17,000 files are lost

More than 17,000 files containing the personal details of overseas people and families seeking a safe haven in the UK have been lost.

Officials at the UK Border Agency, which issued the figure, said they would now decide what to do with all of the affected asylum seekers on a "case by case basis."

A spokesman added: "Where we accept that documents have been lost whilst in our care we consider all costs associated with replacing it. Each case is considered on

its own merits."

An application to stay in Britain typically includes a person's name, date of birth, passport number and address, as well as details of their family and children.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said the count in November last year puts the total number of lost applications at 17,208, in response to a parliamentary question.

Dr Brian Iddon, Labour MP for Bolton South East, also heard the files went missing "in transit between units" of the Border Agency within the past three years.

"The UK Border Agency is moving towards electronic case-working which will reduce the movement of paper around the Agency," the spokesman reflected.

"In the meantime moving files to dedicated teams across the business who have responsibility for progressing an individual case remains critical to supporting the casework decision-making process."

Exactly how the files were lost is expected to form the subject of an inquiry the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas will make to the Home Office this week.

His scrutiny of the Borders Agency will follow a recent National Audit Office report, which found a backlog of up to 200,000 cases, all yet to be examined, has built up.

Immigration rights groups warn the effect of these delays can be lethal, as the vulnerable left in limbo are often prone to illness, self-harm and suicide.

Other commentators say the delays are forcing refugees to redo their applications, leading to a prolonged period of them not being able to work or to claim benefits.

Increasing the waiting time is the escalation in lost files, which the Observer reports is due to more casework being done outside of London, requiring more transportation.

It understands that some of the lost files contained driving licence numbers and bank account details, potentially leaving aspiring claimants open to fraud.

This latest data loss by the state comes just days after more than 20 organisations, mostly in the private sector, joined the Personal Information Promise scheme.

Vodafone, BT and T-Mobile are among the signatories of the ICO's promise, which binds members to "go further than just the letter of the law" when handling personal information.

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