More than 140,000 asylum seekers are waiting for a decision on their claim after the backlog of applications soared by over 20,000 in three months.
Home Office figures for the year to September 2022 show there were 143,377 asylum applications which were yet to be determined, of which 97,717 had been waiting for over six months.
This is at least three times higher than the 45,255 applications awaiting an initial decision at the same period in 2019, when 26,125 had been waiting for more than six months.
Campaigners described the asylum system as being in “complete disarray” and said the lengthy waiting times are “destroying lives”, while politicians claimed the Home Office is a “disaster zone”.
It comes as Home Secretary Suella Braverman set a target for caseworkers to make three decisions per week by May and an “ambition” to get to four.
The current rate of processing asylum claims is too low and the system is too slow, with caseworkers currently making just one decision a week on average, she told MPs.
Meanwhile, the Home Office is paying staff bonuses to stop them leaving in a bid to help cut the backlog, the department’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said.
The department currently has around 1,000 asylum caseworkers but is hiring more. There are due to be around 1,500 by March, depending on staff turnover.
Some 85,902 people applied for asylum in the year to September – the highest number for almost two decades since the 87,160 applications recorded in the 12 months to June 2003.
The latest figure is almost double the number of applications made for the same period in 2019 (44,145). But it is still lower than the previous peak in 2002 when there was conflict and political unrest in Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Somalia.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said the asylum system was in “serious peril” while the British Red Cross said the backlog was rising at an “alarming rate.”
Amnesty International UK said the system was in “complete disarray” and urged Ms Braverman to “completely overhaul her disastrous asylum policy.”
Ministers must set up a “dedicated and well-resourced” taskforce to improve the processing of asylum claims, Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said.
Maria Stephens, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, added: “Snowballing delays in processing asylum claims are destroying lives.”
She renewed calls for the Government to give people the right to work while they are awaiting a decision, arguing that this would be a boost for businesses, provide millions of pounds in tax and national insurance and help the wellbeing of asylum seekers.
The sharp rise in the number of asylum applications is likely linked to the growing number of migrants crossing the Channel to the UK, with 90% of arrivals in the 12-month period (31,891) claiming asylum or being recorded as a dependant on an application.
Albania was the top nationality claiming asylum, with 13,650 applications made in the period. Of these, 6,624 were from Albanians who had crossed the Channel.
The data published on Thursday also show the grant rate for asylum applications has reached its highest level for more than 30 years.
Some 77% of applications were granted some form of refugee status or other humanitarian protection at the initial decision stage.
This is the highest grant rate since 82% in 1990. But the volume of applications was lower at the time, amounting to 3,320 grants of asylum or other forms of protection.
Higher grant rates are thought to be due to a rise in applications from nationalities that typically have applications approved because of their circumstances and a greater need for protection for those facing instability in their homeland, such as Afghans, as well as vulnerable cases being prioritised during processing.
Roughly half of Albanian asylum claims were granted. The grant rate is particularly high for women from the Balkan state, at around 82%, but only about 10% for Albanian men, according to officials.
Albanians crossing the Channel to the UK this year are said to have predominantly been men.
Grant rates are also high for people from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, around 98%, while Indians had the lowest grant rate of about 4%.