News story

New family returns process begins

A radical new process for managing the return of families found to have no right to be in the UK starts today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A new Independent Family Returns Panel is one part of a wider, updated approach to managing family returns. The new four-stage process aims to return those with no right to remain in the UK with dignity, ensuring the welfare of children at all times.

The four stage process involves:

  • decision-making which will be strengthened through the creation of specialist family case owners within the UK Border Agency, the development of pilots to test new ways of working with families and our continuing work with the UNHCR (the UK Refugee Agency) to test and improve the quality of our decision making
  • assisted return, including family conferences to discuss the family’s return home, welfare and medical concerns and the availability of tailored assisted voluntary return packages to help families resettle upon their return
  • required returns for families who fail to take up assistance packages, allowing them to remain in the community, but giving two weeks notice to board their flight home and allowing self check-in without the need for enforcement action
  • an ensured return, as a last resort for families who refuse to depart the UK. The new Family Returns Panel will advise the UK Border Agency on return plans to ensure the welfare of the child is taken properly into account. Options will include a form of limited notice removal, the use of open accommodation, and - as a last resort where families resolutely fail to comply- family friendly, pre-departure accommodation

The panel will provide expert advice to the UK Border Agency on the best method of ensuring the return of individual families, taking into account the specific welfare needs of children.

Immigration minister Damian Green said: ‘The Family Returns Panel is a crucial step toward a more humane removal process for families with no right to be in the UK; a process which puts the welfare of children at centre stage. 
‘At every stage of the process, we expect families to leave voluntarily, but while we always take a compassionate approach we must ensure that individuals with no legal right to be in the UK cannot prolong their stay and break the rules. 
‘I believe our new measures are both practical and fair. We are providing assistance packages and family conferences to ensure families understand their options, and will be trying to ensure that families can remain in the community prior to their departure home.’
Minister of State for Children and Families Sarah Teather said: ’We are putting compassion and children’s welfare at the heart of these new arrangements. The panel will provide independent expertise on how best to manage returns of individual families, which shows real progress on our commitment to reform the returns process for families who have no right to remain in the UK.’

The interim independent chair will be Chris Spencer. Mr Spencer, until very recently Director of Children’s Services at Hillingdon Council, is also a senior member of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, a trained child psychologist and has a long association with child welfare issues.
Other members will include current and former senior Local Authority Children’s Services Directors and Child Safeguarding Board members. There will also be at least one doctor to provide professional medical advice and a representative from the UK Border Agency and Department for Education.

Chris Spencer, the interim chair of the new family returns Ppanel, said:

‘The Family Returns Panel is a welcome and vital body in ensuring the individual welfare needs of families and children during their return to their home countries.

‘We welcome the opportunity to assist the government and UK Border Agency in their goal of establishing a more humane family removals policy.’

The Panel has been appointed on an interim basis with an open recruitment process due to begin later in the year.   

Notes to editors

1. The government committed to the ending of child detention for immigration purposes. In December 2010, it unveiled a new compassionate approach to family removals, following a wide-reaching review and consultation.

2. The interim Panel will comprise:

Chris Spencer (until very recently Director of Children’s Services at Hillingdon Council)
Pauline Newman (who will join the Panel in April after her retirement as Director of Children’s Services at Manchester City Council)
John Donaldson MBE (former Head of Service for Immigration and Emergency Services at Glasgow City Council)
Philip Ishola (current Head of the Asylum and Immigration Service and Counter child trafficking lead officer, Harrow Children’s Services and Local Safeguarding Children Board) and
Dr John Keen (Medical Advisor to the UK Border Agency).

3. The new process follows a three month pilot in London and the North West where 90 Family Return Conferences were conducted.

Published 28 February 2011