I have written to the National Audit Office asking them to investigate the commercial partnership between UK Visas and Immigration and Sopra Steria after a number of constituents and stakeholders contacted me about extortionate prices and poor service.
In May 2018, Sopra Steria was awarded the £91 million Home Office contract to provide visa services, including submitting biometric data and other supporting evidence. The process used to be provided by the Post Office at a low cost, but applicants are now directed to Sopra Steria’s website to book an appointment.
There are only six Core Centres in the country where free appointments can be booked: in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and Croydon. However, the free service is only for appointments in office hours; out of hours appointments cost £100. The alternative is for an applicant to go to an Enhanced Service Point, where appointments cost £60-£125. There is no provision for linking family members’ applications, so no guarantee of them being seen on the same day.
The system inevitably generates pots of queries, but applicants who ring the helpline are charged £2.50 per minute for the call. It is perhaps therefore no surprise that an FOI request revealed that Sopra Steria has made more than £2 million between January and April this year.
I raised this with the Immigration Minister in May, and have tabled Written Parliamentary Questions, but have not been reassured by the response. I am extremely concerned about Sopra Steria’s capacity and ability to provide a high-quality service and sufficient free appointments, not least as we approach the inevitable increase in demand that will come with the ‘student surge’ in September and applications from non-EU nationals linked to the EU Settlement Scheme.
This is a vital service for thousands of people being funded by public money so it is essential the Home Office gets a grip on this. Read more in The Independent here.