NEW HOME OFFICE GUIDANCE ON MAKING SUBJECT ACCESS REQUESTS
I am sure you all know that on 25 May 2018 the new General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, has come into force.
Every organisation that handles sensitive data need to comply with the new law, which has specific provisions for “special categories of personal data” including race, ethnic origin, politics, religion, sexual orientation, health and biometric data.
Does it sound familiar? Yes, this is exactly the type of information that the Home Office would have on the vast majority of migrants who have made an application for leave to enter or remain. Financial information would also be in the Home Office possession.
Unless you decide not to make an application, giving out this information is a necessary evil, but with the GDPR you should feel more protected in terms of how does the Home Office process and share your data. Even better news is the fact that you have a better access to the information that the Home Office holds on you.
Why is this important?
If you have a long immigration history, chances are that the Home Office has a large paper and electronic file containing information about any applications you made and any decision taken.
Interestingly, internal files notes would also be recorded, and you can access them with a simple request. Such notes are often important to uncover information you otherwise would not be aware of. For example, you can receive the minutes of the reasons for granting you a visa, which would be an excellent starting point when you make a subsequent application.
Notes of telephone conversations and discussions between Home Office departments or with your previous representative, may give you a comprehensive picture of what happened behind the scenes when your case was being processed.
Furthermore, you may find out that you are considered as an absconder or that at some point the Home Office intended to detain or remove you.
Before the GDPR came into force, you had to pay £10 and write to the “subject access bureau” within the Home Office requesting disclosure. The Home Office would reply within 40 working days, but often it would take much longer to elicit a response.
On 23 May 2018, a new Home Office policy on subject access requests has been published, and it can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/requests-for-personal-data-uk-visas-and-immigration/request-personal-information-held-by-uk-visas-and-immigration
There are two main changes: firstly, you no longer have to pay a fee when you make your request (so you save £10!) and secondly, there are now three types of requests: basic, specific and detailed.
A basic and a specific request will receive a response within 20 days from the date the Home Office has confirmed your identity. A detailed request will take a month, which is a shorter period than the 40 working days under the previous regime.
A basic request will only disclose:
- an electronic summary of your immigration history
- landing cards
- an electronic summary of entry clearance records
- Workers Registration Scheme (WRS) information if applicable
- entry and exit records for the past 5 years
The specific request is new, and if you make this request you can only ask for copies of 5 specific documents. So, if you know exactly what you need, it could be a good option.
You may think at this point that, for the sake of 10 extra waiting days, it would be better to make a detailed request, which would disclose a copy of your full Home Office file.
Well, it is not exactly like that. The Home Office website specifies that “initially, you will be sent an electronic summary of your immigration history (as with a basic application) as this gives most people what they need. However, this option allows you to request further information from your Home Office file if you still need it”.
This means that in fact it could take you 20 days to get the electronic file and 30 extra days to get your full file. You also need to add the time between the two requests, so realistically you are looking at over 2 months to receive your full file.
It is unclear why the Home Office would only send electronic information in response to a detailed request in the first place, and it may be that such policy will be challenged.
How do you make a subject access request?
You can apply online (but you still need to print your completed application) or in writing at:
Subject Access Request Unit
UK Visas and Immigration
40 Wellesley Road
Croydon CR9 2BY
and you must send evidence of your identity.
Acceptable evidence is a photo ID such as passport or travel document, biometric residence permit or driving licence.
If you do not have any form of ID, you can ask a solicitor, barrister, OISC accredited or a registered charity to certify your photo as a true likeness. Alternatively you can use the Post Office document checking service for this.
You must also send a letter giving the Home Office permission to disclose your records to you or your solicitor and if you apply on behalf of a child under 12, you need to send proof of relationship.
Requesting your file is very important if you have a long immigration history, if you are not clear on what is happening in your case or if you believe a mistake has been made. It is important to be aware that you have the right to see which information is stored about you, and you have the right to complain if your request is delayed or if your file contains errors.