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Research uncovers systemic failures in East London immigration advice market

Published: 9 Nov 2015


Research released today (Monday 9 November) from Toynbee Hall into the provision immigration advice in East London has uncovered systemic failures with both regulated and unregulated advisors providing misleading and expensive advice to vulnerable clients.

The year-long research project included mystery-shopping visits to 44 fee-charging providers of immigration advice in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and gives a unique insight into the services provided and the quality of provision.

The report, Trusting the Dice, found that of the 127 immigration advice providers identified in borough, 1 in 10 were operating outside the regulatory regime.

Of the 44 providers visited as part of the mystery shopping exercise, almost a third (29%) gave inaccurate or misleading advice, including advising clients that their cases had a good chance of success when in fact this was not the case.  14% acted in an unethical manner, requesting a fee for advice which could have been obtained elsewhere for free, including through legally-aided services. In one case, a provider advised the researcher to pursue an illegal course of action.

The research found community networks and pressures can affect the choices clients make when selecting a provider. In some cases, consulting their communities can benefit clients but there are too many instances of worryingly bad practice among ‘preferred’ providers.

The lack of up to date and coordinated information both from regulatory bodies and among voluntary sector providers is compounding the issue. Researchers found instances of voluntary sector providers referring clients to services that either no longer exist or were unable to help.

In addition rules set by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner mean there are no ways for clients to assess quality between providers, and regulated advisers cannot officially make recommendations but must instead offer a list. This was found to be yet another hurdle when moving round a system in which there are no reliable markers for quality.

Toynbee Hall Chief Executive Graham Fisher said: “Trusting the Dice sought to gather objective information about immigration advice provision in Tower Hamlets.  The research found individuals ricocheting through a system, frequently with little accurate information on which to base a choice, paying over the odds for advice which was in many cases with futile or inaccurate.”  

Read the key findings
Read the full report