Home Office age assessment body opposed by BASW starts work

National Age Assessment Board starts operations in London and West Midlands, weeks after association urged social workers not to work for it for fear of having their professional judgment compromised

Young black man receiving a mental health assessment
Picture posed by models (Prostock-studio/Adobe Stock)

A government asylum age assessment body that the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has urged practitioners not to take jobs with has started work.

The Home Office said its National Age Assessment Board (NAAB) will start operating, initially, in the London and West Midlands, before being rolled out to the rest of the country once its full complement of 40 social workers had been recruited.

The NAAB will oversee a new system for age assessing unaccompanied asylum seekers established by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. It will review local authority assessments and carry out its own in some situations, with the Home Office intending that it conducts a significant proportion of those currently conducted by councils.

The legislation provides for this either through direct referral from local authorities or where the home secretary doubts the authority’s conclusion as to a young person’s age, with the board’s verdict being final.

It also allows the government to introduce controversial “scientific” methods of assessment – such as x-rays of wisdom teeth and hand and wrist bones and MRI scans of the knee and collar bones – once it has deemed these appropriate, after taking advice from science advisers.

Initially, NAAB social workers will carry out Merton-compliant age assessments – in reference to the requirements for assessments set by the leading case,  B v London Borough of Merton [2003] – and will start using scientific methods as well once these are brought in, the Home Office said last week.

BASW urges social workers not to work for board

In a statement last month, BASW urged members and non-members alike not to take jobs with the NAAB on the grounds that their professional judgment risked being compromised by the Home Office’s political priorities. The association’s intervention came in the wake of the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, which has received near-universal condemnation from children’s social care bodies because of measures that would allow unaccompanied young people who arrive in the UK without leave to enter to be detained, deported when they turned 18 or placed outside the scope of the care system.

In response to BASW’s comments last month, the Home Office said that NAAB’s assessments and staff would be “distinct from [its] asylum and immigration decision-making functions”, and their “primary consideration” would be “the best interests of children and the aim of achieving accurate age assessments”.

Its press release on the board’s launch last week focused very strongly on the risks of adults posing as children “as a way of accessing support they are not entitled to”, and of the safeguarding risks of adults being placed in the children’s care system.

“It’s a sad fact that there have been cases of asylum-seeking adults pretending to be children to try and game the system, which presents a serious safeguarding risk,” said immigration minister Robert Jenrick. “It is vital we use every tool at our disposal to weed out people falsely claiming to be children so we can prevent abuse of our services and protect children in the UK.

Most age assessments resolved in favour of asylum seeker

The Home Office also cited data showing that, of the 7,900 people involved in age-disputed cases resolved from 2016-22, 49% were found to be adults. However, the same data shows that, over time, the number of those found to be children has increased. This was true of:

  • 48% of resolved cases (337 out of 701) in 2020.
  • 51% of resolved cases (1,168 out of 2,295) in 2021.
  • 62% of resolved cases (1,042 out of 1,693) in 2022.

It is not clear whether the Home Office has struggled to recruit social workers to the board, though it initially advertised for 40 roles – constituting the total required by the service – last spring.

It subsequently advertised for 19 more roles, towards the end of 2022, at a higher rate of pay, and, in a statement last month, said it was planning more recruitment campaigns later this year until the board was fully staffed.

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2 Responses to Home Office age assessment body opposed by BASW starts work

  1. Andy April 11, 2023 at 9:20 am #

    What’s SWE’s position on this matter? Shouldn’t “compromised professional judgement” raise concerns regarding fitness to practise?

  2. Violet April 17, 2023 at 3:47 pm #

    SWE is hardly going to provoke it’s paymaster by expressing a critical opinion now is it?