The Home Office has apologised to a Bedford Borough couple, and will refund their special priority service fee, after they reported to the Bedford Independent delays and difficulties in receiving the Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) they were entitled to receive within seven working days of their application.
Once a person has a BRP, they can obtain a ‘share code’. This provides proof to any potential employer of their right to work in the UK.
Without the BRP and linked share code, borough resident Vladyslav Chepelenko, 29, faced missing out on a job which was planned to start on Monday.
The Home Office confirmed on Friday afternoon that an admin error had occurred and the situation was being ‘urgently rectified’.
Bethany Taylor, 30, contacted the Bedford Independent earlier this week to share their story.
Her partner, Vladyslav, is from Ukraine and came to the UK in December 2020 on a proposed civil partnership visa. The couple had their civil partnership ceremony in April.
They then successfully applied for a spousal visa, FLR-m. The couple borrowed the £800 needed from family to pay for the Home Office’s special priority service, which provides next working day response to a visa application.
Vladyslav’s spousal visa approval letter on 24 May said he would receive his biometric residence permit (BRP) ‘within seven working days’.
At the time of publication, they still hadn’t received the BRP.
The Bedford Independent contacted the Home Office.
A spokesperson responded on Friday afternoon: “An administrative error meant Mr Chepelenko’s biometric residence permit card was not requested upon approval – this is urgently being rectified and a full refund of the Super Priority Fee will be made in due course.
“We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
The Home Office spokesperson also commented more generally on response times to BRP enquiries.
“Following a robust recovery plan UKVI are now responding to all enquiries relating to production and delivery problems of biometric residency permits within five working days,” they said.
“However, due to the impact of the pandemic the department were not able to routinely meet those service standards between September 2020 and end May 2021.”
Bethany, who used to work in the creative arts but since the pandemic has worked as an emergency call handler, said when originally contacting the Bedford Independent: “We feel totally stuck and unsure of how this is ever going to be resolved as it seems impossible to speak to anyone at the Home Office.
“We cannot continue living on only my salary, and the stress of all of this is starting to have a real impact on my mental health, as well as my partner’s.”
The couple contacted FedEx, the company contracted with delivering BRPs. FedEx said they had still not received Vladyslav’s BRP.
Over this week and last week, the couple tried to contact the Home Office via multiple email addresses.
Through one of these emails, they submitted a complaint on Saturday 5 June.
A complaint cannot be made about a missing BRP until at least 10 days after a Home Office ‘decision letter’.
The couple only received automated messages in response to their emails. The automated message to their complaint advised that it could take up to 50 working days for a response to it.
Bethany also called the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) helpline on Wednesday 9 June. She was informed they could only escalate their case after three complaints on the .gov site.
Employers can verify an individual’s right to work in the UK themselves, through the government’s employer checking service (ECS).
But this only applies to a person when they are going through an “outstanding application or appeal” and cannot present valid right to work documents, or are extending or replacing an existing visa.
Bethany said they’d found employers unwilling to do this, or to trust this system, because it was new to them. On Friday, the couple also successfully persuaded Vladyslav’s prospective employers from Monday to fill out the ECS.
The couple also contacted the constituency office of Mohammad Yasin, Labour MP for Bedford and Kempston.
The office had assisted and sent an enquiry to the Home Office, but warned the response could take up to 20 working days.
Mr Yasin declined to comment on the specific case to the Bedford Independent.
However, he said he had repeatedly seen “constituents’ lives in limbo, as they are unable to make firm plans, put down roots or travel to see loved ones” while the Home Office hold documents.
The ‘majority of enquiries’ sent by his constituency office to the Home Office during the pandemic had also not received ‘a full response’ within the agreed 20 working days time limit for MPs. He added that ‘colleagues’ offices’ had similar experiences.
“I have long argued against this and previous Conservative Governments’ immigration policies, many of which are in my view deliberately hostile,” said Mr Yasin.
“Communication is often poor with applicants, who can wait indeterminately without any idea when to expect UKVI decision outcomes, or are left to raise complaints that don’t get answered where something has not happened as expected.
“Whilst I recognise the challenges to ways of working posed by the pandemic, we are also now 16 months in, and by now those challenges should have been identified and solutions put in place.”
Mr Yasin continued, “the Home Office are happy to take enormous sums of money from people, without any sense of obligation to provide a commensurate service.
“Anyone in a situation where an employer is requesting proof of right should urge workplaces to make use of the Employer Checking Service, which can be used where there are no documents available https://www.gov.uk/employee-immigration-employment-status ”
It’s not the first time Bethany and Vladyslav have had difficulties with the Home Office.
The pair worked on cruise ships for four years to see each other, because Vladyslav’s tourist visa application was rejected. “We’ve really gone through a lot to be together,” Bethany said.
Vladyslav’s long-term career ambitions are to work in the public sector as a translator. Vladyslav is fluent in English, German, Russian and Ukrainian.
Since November 2020, 30 parliamentary written questions concerning BRPs have been submitted to the Home Office.
Responding to one such query in late March, the parliamentary under-secretary to the Home Office, Kevin Foster MP, confirmed the Home Office had service agreements with the DVLA for the production of BRPs and FedEx for their delivery.
The DVLA has a target of within 24 hours production of BRPs for 90% of cases and within 48 hours for all cases.
For the period 1 April 2020-12 March 2021, the DVLA achieved within 48 hours production in 97.7% of cases.
FedEx has a target of within 48 working hours first attempt delivery of BRPs in 99% of cases.
Between 1 July 2020 and 28 February 2021, first attempt delivery was achieved within 48 working hours, according to FedEx, in 99.2% of cases.
The Home Office spokesperson said the service level agreement with the DVLA concerning the personalisation of the BRP cards was reached via a memorandum of understanding. FedEx’s target is also a ‘contractual service standard’.
In a separate written question answer in February, Mr Foster admitted 5,585 BRPs had failed to be processed between September and December 2020.
The UKVI found in December that its overseas enrolment partner TLS had captured ‘oversized photographic images’. The BRPs were only resolved for affected customers in February.