15

The Home Office sponsors a type of help desk where people can call them or exchange emails or even engage in live chat.

When someone calls the Home Office with a question about a Visitor Visa and the help desk provides an answer which is totally wrong (or even worse, harmful), what recourse is available?

For example, someone might be told on the phone that it's fine to submit credit card statements in lieu of bank statements. And then their application is refused.

When something like this happens and the person gets removed from port or has an application refused, the person may react with anger or indignation because they acted in good faith from an "official source" and acquired a pejorative immigration history as a result. The loss of GBP 83 application fee may be insubstantial to the person, but few would consider this to be the main point anyway.

The Home Office also sponsors a complaint procedure, but it's already known that filing a complaint about a refusal will not cause them to reverse a decision. And after a person has been removed from port, a complaint from abroad is likely to be seen as futile.

Can the person insist upon receiving a visa? Or can they take the Home Office to court to recover their lost expenses? If the help line gave the person a positive expectation that their application would be refused, does it count as a contract?

Beyond using the Home Office's complaint procedure, what path(s) of recourse is/are available to the person who received bad/inaccurate information from the official Home Office help line?

Credible/authoritative sources please.

18

Prior to 11 May 2015, the answer to this question was subject to opinion. But on that date the Upper Tribunal published a decision that nailed it down unambiguously. The decision has the full force of UK law behind it.

Background

Briefly, the case involved two brothers who used the UKVI helpline and got bad advice. Their application was refused with the formulae...

“You have stated that you have access to funds of £200,000 being made available to you by Mr Nawaz Mumtaz. As evidence you have provided:

  1. a bank letter from Natwest (inc. statement);
  2. a declaration from Mr Nawaz Mumtaz;
  3. a letter from Mr S. Sikandar Ali Shah.

However, the bank letter is not acceptable because it does not state your name and the name of your entrepreneurial team partner, and confirm the amount of money being available to you and your team partner from the third party’s funds.

You have therefore not submitted the specified evidence as listed under paragraph 41-SD to establish that you have access to the funds that you are claiming.”

This is 180 degrees out from what someone on the helpline told the brothers. It was fully admitted by the Home Office and the lower court confirmed it by listening to the recorded telephone transcripts. The brothers sued the Government claiming the Home Office had created 'legitimate expectations' and hence their visas must be issued, and the case finally reached the Upper Tribunal.

Relevant Points

Lots of things came out in the proceedings, but what's helpful in this answer are...

  1. Helpline personnel are not caseworkers
  2. Helpline personnel are empowered only to read what is written on the Home Office's web site.

Decision

The brothers' case was soundly crushed by the Tribunal. There's no chance the courts will take this case (or any case like it) any further.

Implications

If you get bad advice from the Home Office helpline, you do not have legal recourse. Given a tribunal decision is now on the books, you will have a massively difficult time even getting them in to court. You can use the Home Office Complaints Procedure and doing so may help them train staff better or recognize problems on their site, but they will take no action that helps you personally.

Links to the Home Office site or Parliament are not needed here. For those interested, the decision itself is at [2015] UKUT 191. Colin Yeo has published his own interpretation of the decision.


Update 9 August 2017

As of right now, calls and emails to Home Office attract a fee! You'll need a credit card to get through to someone who will then read the web site to you.

  • I hope that any legal challenge which includes "hence their visas must be issued" as a demand has that part dismissed out of hand... – Moo Aug 10 '17 at 0:06
  • 3
    Who needs Home Office helpline when you have SE? – John Bell Aug 10 '17 at 15:14
3

Your legal claim has no standing.

Visas are not a service or product that is sold to you as a consumer by a private business under a contract. You will have no luck persuading a court that this would be a reasonable way to run the immigration service. Even if you did, UK law has already provided how appeals to immigration decisions must be made.

An appeal against an immigration decision must be in accordance with the rules specified in http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/41/part/5. I will not post them here because they are rather long, but "our agent gave you bad advice" is not in the list.

Moreover, the judicial system respects that the issuances of visas is basically a political matter and will be reluctant to interfere, unless it is evident to the court that it is a serious injustice. £83 is not a serious injustice.

Your second option, if you believe the government acted unlawfully, by which I mean, not in accordance with the immigration law, you could also bring an action for judicial review. The judge is limited to deciding whether the home office acted in accordance with the law. This means, dry stuff like, did you actually file the documents in 27 days but the Home Office thinks it was 29 days which is too long? The court will not consider any new evidence. The process is very expensive and even if you win you may not be awarded costs.

Your best recourse is to follow the complaints procedure and to apply again.

https://www.gov.uk/immigration-asylum-tribunal/appeal-from-outside-the-uk https://www.freemovement.org.uk/visit-visa-refusals-appeal-or-judicial-review/

  • 6
    Please re-read Gayot Fow's profile again. He was a UK lawyer specializing in immigration law. Where does it indicate when? Does being an immigration lawyer equate to understanding contract law? Does being an immigration lawyer 20, or 30, or 5, years ago mean he is up to date on the recent changes? Finally, even were he to be completely knowledgeable about a subject, can he not ask a question that might be asked by an individual, if no other lay persons have thought to ask it, and as if a lay person wrote it? – CGCampbell May 21 '15 at 2:12

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