The Chief inspector of Borders and Immigration has published a report criticising the Home’ Office’s provisions for tackling sham marriages. In March 2015, the Home Office extended the time period for couples to inform the Home Office of their intention to marry in order to give them time to investigate. The changes addressed the way the Home Office approached marriages believed to be a sham, in line with the government’s “hostile environment” initiative.

Couples who failed to comply with the Home Office’s provisions would not be permitted to marry, but those who comply but are still deemed to be a sham would be allowed to marry. Even if a wedding is a sham, it was determined that this shouldn’t be a barrier to marriage, because people get married for all manner of reasons. Instead of blocking the marriage, the Home Office switched their focus to preventing any future successful immigration applications following the marriage.

The report determined: “The inspection found that the initial implementation of the new provisions was problematic, indicating a lack of proper planning:

  • the Home Office did not communicate effectively with registrars about its new way of operating, where it no longer attended register offices and prevented ceremonies from proceeding
  • new processes were cumbersome and weakened by their reliance on fragmented IT and by the limited operational support received from local enforcement teams, with the result that cases were not being determined within the extended time limit.”

The report made five suggestions, including ensuring the Home Office staff were provided with sufficient interview skills training to ensure they were able to deal with well-prepared couples. It was also suggested that in cases where a marriage was determined to be a sham but the couple were able to marry anyway, the couple should be informed in writing of the Home Office’s determination to act as a deterrent to future applications.