Asylum Substantive (Big) Interview

In the asylum interview, or substantive interview, the person from the Home Office will ask you in detail why you want to claim refuge. You might be there for a few hours and be asked a lot of questions. You might be asked the same things in different ways more than once.

Some people will have the interview with the interviewer and their translator in the same room, while others will be asked to do the interview via video link. Here, you can find out more about video asylum talks. It can be a long, hard, and scary interview, and it could be the most important part of your refugee application. It is very important that you explain as much as you can about why you want refuge. This can be very hard for people who have lived through violence and oppression. During the interview, you have the right to ask for a break.

People will ask you questions about things that might be hard to talk about. Be prepared for not being believed. The interviewer from the Home Office will often tell you straight out that they don’t believe you. You need to be very clear, give as many details as you can, and try to remember to include all the important information. If you are an adult, your lawyer won’t be there when you talk to the judge. You also can’t usually bring someone else with you to the interview, like a friend. Have friends, neighbours, and allies around before and after the interview so you can talk to them.

You are afraid that your answers might be misunderstood or written down wrong during the interview, and that it will be your word against the Home Office’s. It is Home Office policy to automatically audio record in-person substantive interviews. After the conversation, you should be given a copy of the recording. Make sure to ask for this at the end of the interview, or ask your attorney to do it for you. If your important interview took place over a video call, it should have been recorded immediately. At the end of your conversation, make sure to ask for a copy of the audio recording or have your lawyer do it for you. If the Home Office denies your refugee claim because of something that was misunderstood or written down wrong, your lawyer can listen to the audio recording and write a statement about it, which could be used in an appeal. You can ask the Home Office for a copy of your screening interview record if you didn’t get one or lost it. This can be done with the help of your lawyer or even your MP if the Home Office doesn’t answer or won’t give you a copy.

You have written proof about your case, but you don’t know if you should bring it to your interview with the Home Office. Talk to your lawyer and show them the papers. They will tell you if and when you should give the evidence to the Home Office.

You are worried about telling a stranger in a position of power who may be hostile and rude what happened to you and what might happen to you if you are returned. Before the interview, talk with a friend about what you want to say.

The asylum substantive interview is the most important part of the asylum process. The interviewer from the Home Office will ask you in detail why you want to come to the UK to seek refuge. An interview can take a long time and be hard. The discussion may be the most important part of your application for asylum. Because of this, it’s very important to get ready for it. No matter if you have a lawyer or not, this page is here to help you. You can find the following information on this page:

What is the substantive interview?

The asylum substantive interview is the most important part of the asylum process. The interviewer from the Home Office will ask you in detail why you want to get refuge. An interview can take a long time and be hard. You might be there for a few hours and be asked a lot of questions. You might be asked the same things in different ways more than once. You can find out more about this in the part below called “Questions you might be asked.” When you answer questions, you need to be very clear, give as much information as you can, and try to remember to include all the important information about yourself and why you want protection.


Unfortunately, a lot of people have to wait months or even a year or two before they can have their real interview. This is very annoying and upsetting because it makes you feel like your life has stopped. It’s important to know that delays in scheduling interviews are not your mistake and are not a sign that your case is weak. Because the Home Office has a big backlog of more than 160,000 choices about asylum that have not yet been made.

What happens before the Substantive Interview?

Before the substantive interview, the Home Office gives many, but not all, people a document called a “Preliminary Information Questionnaire” (sometimes called a “PIQ form”). These are meant to tell the Home Office about your claim so that the interview questions can be more specific. If you are given one of these forms, it is very important that you try to get a lawyer to help you fill it out. If you fill out these forms with wrong information and it doesn’t match what you say in conversations or other proof, this could be used to deny your asylum claim. If you can’t find a lawyer, you can send an email to the Home Office to explain that you haven’t filled out the form because you’re looking for one. You can also ask for more time because you’re looking for a lawyer. Do not worry if you do not get a PIQ form. Not everyone gets one. Your interview will still happen the same way it always has.

Preparing for the Interview

The asylum substantive interview may be one of the most important parts of the process for you, especially if it will be your main piece of proof. Preparing for the interview is very important. You should meet with your agent before the day of the interview if you have one.

What happens at the interview?

Your rights during the interview

  • You have the right to request a male or female interviewer, and a male or female interpreter. Make this request as far in advance as possible.
  • If you are not feeling well, you are tired, or you are upset because of having to think about what has happened to you, tell the interviewer this.
  • If you need a break during the interview, ask for one – this is your right, do not be afraid to ask.
  • If you would like some water to drink during the interview – ask. This is your right. 
  • If you do not understand the question that is being asked, you can ask the interviewer or interpreter to repeat the question or rephrase it for you to better understand. 
  • If you think there is a problem with interpretation, say so as soon as possible, and ask for this to be noted on the interview record.
  • If there were things you forgot to say, or said wrong, or felt you were not given time to explain, or if there were any other problems during the interview, make sure this is noted when you are asked, towards the end of the interview, “Is there anything else you want to add?”
  • Make sure you are given a copy of the audio recording and the written transcript at the end of the interview.
  • If you forgot something during the interview or answered incorrectly, it is your right to write to the Home Office after the interview to correct this information (with reasons for why you did not provide these answers on the interview day). Make sure to do this as soon as possible. If you have a lawyer, they can help you do this. 

Audio recording and written record

The Home Office will immediately record the interview because it is your legal right. The person from the Home Office also writes down the questions they ask and your answers. This is called a copy. You should get copies of both of these records as soon as the conversation is over. If you have an attorney, he or she will also need a copy. The written copy should be read as soon as possible because these records are important. For instance, you may find out later that your refugee claim was denied because the Home Office thought you said something you didn’t, or because something was written down wrong or was misunderstood. If your case is turned down and you decide to appeal, your lawyer can listen to the audio recording and compare it to what was written down (with the help of a translation, if necessary). You can do this yourself if you don’t have an agent.

Interpreters / Translators

If you need a translator for the interview, the Home Office will give you one. You should let the Home Office know as soon as possible what language (and exact dialect) you need and if you have any preferences about the gender of the interpreter. If there are any problems with the interpreter, such as if you can’t understand them, they can’t understand you, they speak a different dialect, you don’t think they are being professional, or you can tell they aren’t translating things correctly, it is very important to tell the Home Office interviewer and ask them to write it down.

This will then be written down, which is important because if you later say there was a problem with the speaker but you didn’t bring it up at the interview, the Home Office will wonder why you didn’t bring it up sooner. If there were problems with the speaker or with anything else during the interview, you should also tell your lawyer, if you have one. However, it would be much better if it had been recorded at the time of the interview. If there are mistakes in your testimony because of bad translation during the interview and these mistakes are used to deny your asylum claim, it will be much easier to reply to the reasons for refusal letter if the problems were noted during the interview. You can’t ignore major problems with interpretation, like if you don’t understand the translator at all or if they don’t understand you. But you should also keep an eye out for small troubles.

If little things are misunderstood, they could hurt your case in a big way. This could be because the wrong date was used. It’s possible that a word in English doesn’t have an exact match in your language, so the wrong word is used. For example, in some languages, “wrist,” “elbow,” and “shoulder” are all just different ways of saying “arm.” This can be a problem, especially when talking about accidents and torture. If “he” and “she” are not used properly, it could be a problem. Are you talking about one person but it sounds like you’re talking about two? If you speak English well enough to catch these mistakes, you should fix them during the interview. Or, you might not know there are mistakes until you, your lawyer, or one of your supporters reads the transcript of the interview. This is why it’s important to be involved in your case and read all of your interview records from the Home Office, so that you can fix or explain any mistakes as soon as possible.


Childcare is now available at certain Home Office centres during the asylum substantive interviews for male and female single parents with children under 5 years old. You should inform the Home Office as soon as possible in advance that you will need childcare during the interview – you can ask your lawyer to do this, or you can do it yourself.Some Home Office centres have childcare facilities, but some do not. If there are no childcare facilities, you will have to arrange childcare (for example, perhaps a supporter you trust could pick your children up from school and take care of them), or reschedule the date of the interview, because unfortunately you cannot take children to the interview or Home Office centre with you. The Home Office guidance says the following: 

Claimants who are invited to interview who have young children that requirechildcare and who are unable to make alternative care arrangements, should contactthe Home Office using the contact number provided on the invite to interview letter to discuss options available. This will include whether there is any scope to securecreche facilities at or near the interview location, or whether the interview will need tobe rescheduled.The current sites offering childcare provision are:

  • Cardiff
  • Glasgow
  • Croydon
  • Leeds
  • Solihull
  • Hounslow

The childcare provision varies at each site: some are based in UKVI offices, othersare in a nursery facility within a three-mile radius. A leaflet providing relevantinformation about childcare provision and how to book must be included with theinvitation to interview letter.

Questions you may be asked at the interview

Some of these answers were taken from RightoRemain.org website.

About you

Although these questions may seem basic, these details could be used against you. You must give consistent answers about yourself, in this and other interviews/statements that you provide to the Home Office.

  • What is your date of birth? If you do not know your date of birth, don’t make one up. You can say that you do not know your date of birth, and explain why. If you give an estimate of your date of birth, explain it is a guess and what you are basing the guess on.
  • What is your nationality? The Home Office may say they don’t believe you are the nationality you say you are. In your interview, give as much information and details as you can about where you are from. For example, which area did you live in? Where did you go to school? How many people lived there? What were the local languages?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence? If you were imprisoned/convicted in your country of origin as a result of persecution from the authorities, and you are now seeking asylum because of this persecution, give as much detail as possible. When were you arrested? By whom? For what reason? How long did you spend in prison? What were the conditions like? Did you ever go to court? Why were you released?
  • Do you speak other languages? If you speak other languages, the interviewer will want to know how you know these. If you didn’t have a formal education or you are from a country with a poor education system, the Home Office may say they don’t believe you. You must explain how you know these languages. If you are not fluent in these languages, say so. Otherwise, the Home Office may try to interview you in these languages instead of your mother tongue.

About your journey

  • When did you leave your country? If you are not sure which date you left your country, give the answer as close as possible. What month was it, what year? Explain why you are not sure. Try to give any details you can about the time of year. Was it winter or summer? Was it around Ramadan or another festival? Was it around the harvest or another important time of year? If you give different dates in different interviews, this will be used to doubt your story.
  • Did you travel through other countries on your way to the UK? How was this arranged? How much did it cost? How long did it take? What form of transport did you use? How long did you spend in the different places you travelled through?
  • Did you claim asylum in any of the other countries you have travelled through? If you did not claim asylum in another country on the way to the UK, the Home Office will want to know why.

Remember that the Home Office may use what you say in this interview as evidence to make a decision about the “inadmissibility” of your asylum claim. Since January 2021, if the Home Office thinks that you travelled through a “safe country” on your way to the UK, they can decide to investigate whether your claim should be treated as inadmissible. While your claim is being considered under these rules, your asylum claim will not move forward in the UK.However, at the time of writing, though people who have claimed asylum in the UK have been issued notices of inadmissibility, there is currently no country that they can be sent to. This means that the Inadmissibility Rules policy has not been carried out fully. Read our Toolkit page on the Inadmissibility Rules to better understand what really happens if someone’s claim is flagged as potentially inadmissible. 

Why are you claiming Asylum?

  • Why can’t you return to your country? What could happen to you if you did?
  • You should tell the Home Office about any specific events that have happened to you, giving as much detail as you can. Where possible, include the dates of these events – but remember to say if you are not sure of the date. Being persecuted in the past does not in itself mean you are in need of protection – you need to show you are at risk of something happening if you were returned to your country now.
  • Was there a specific event which made you leave your country? Was it just one event that made you leave? If you’d been suffering persecution over time, what was it about that final event or threat that made you leave at that point?
  • You should try and give your answers about events in chronological order. See section on “dates and times” below.
  • If you didn’t leave your country immediately after an incident that put you or people you know in danger, why was there a delay?
  • Has the threat affected other people? Has anyone in your family experienced the same treatment?
  • If your family or other people persecuted in the same way did not leave the area, why didn’t they leave? Why did you leave and they didn’t? If you left family members behind, did you put any measures in place to try and ensure their safety?
  • If family members or other people in similar situations to you haven’t been threatened, explain why you have.
  • If you left your country a long time ago and you are not in contact with your family, the interviewer may ask you how you know information about your home country now. If you’re not in contact with your family, how do you know you would still be at risk if returned? If you are in contact with your family in your country of origin and they are in danger/are being persecuted, it may be helpful to get as much details/documentary evidence about this as possible (without putting them at risk).
  • If your child/children are with you in the UK and are included in your asylum claim, the Home Office will ask questions about whether they have separate reasons from you for needing asylum. Read more in our legal blog post here. The relevant Home Office guidance is here (which you can read from page 11).

Remember: in this interview, you are explaining why you need international protection. This means why you specifically would be in danger if you were returned to your country. This is different from why you came to the UK, which the Home Office may also ask you about. You may have specific reasons for wanting to come to the UK. These might include personal contacts, family, friends, religious, political or community connections. Make sure that you are clear in your answers – are you talking about why you wouldn’t be safe in your country; or why, when finding somewhere to be safe, you chose to come to the UK (if you did choose)?

Who is responsible?

  • Who are you in danger from? The government, military or police? If you are not in danger from the authorities, but from a ‘non-state agent’, you will need to explain why you can’t get protection from the authorities. If you are describing events that have already happened to you, did you report what happened to you? If not, why not?
  • Would you be safe going to live elsewhere in the country? The Home Office may say you are only in danger in one village, city or region and you could ‘relocate’ somewhere else.
  • If you have already tried going to another area of your country to escape from danger, explain why you could not stay there. If you stayed there for a while, what made you leave in the end?

Arrest or imprisonment

  • If you were imprisoned in your home country as part of your persecution, you will need to explain how you were released, or if you escaped then you need to explain how you managed this. The Home Office is usually very suspicious of escape stories – be clear about how this was possible, and don’t assume the Home Office knows anything about how this could work in your country.
  • Are other people facing longer sentences/torture, and might this happen to you if you were imprisoned again?
  • If you were mistreated while you were imprisoned, make sure to give information about this. Were there bad conditions? For example, many people sharing a small cell, withholding of food rations, no “yard” time outside, or were you kept in isolation? Did you experience torture?

Dates, times, and cultural issues

During the interview, you may be asked to fit your story into a chronological timeline, perhaps in a way you are not used to.Alternatively, during the interview, the interviewer may jump around from event to event which can be very confusing. Take your time answering questions and think about what you want to say before speaking. You might find it easier to draw a timeline of events – ask the interviewer if this is possible.

If you cannot remember a date, say you cannot remember. You may not be able to remember an event by a day or month but by the weather, the season or a family occurrence. You can explain these instead if you are sure of them. If there are ways of marking time that make more sense to you than an official calendar, such as an important church service or jobs you do as a farmer at a similar time every year, use these. For example, you may remember that something happened during Ramadan, or after the harvest. Or that it was winter, because the nights were cold.

If you guess a date, and then say a different date at a different point in the interview or a later stage of your application, this will be used to doubt your story.Be clear about which calendar you are using. Always do this, whether speaking to your lawyer, an interpreter, the Home Office, or a judge. It is better not to switch between calendars as this can lead to mistakes. If you are used to using the Persian calendar, or the Ethiopian calendar, use that throughout your testimony and it will be converted to the UK calendar by the Home Office or your lawyer (if you have one). If you have a lawyer, you can ask them to check that the dates have been converted properly by the Home Office, an interpreter or by themselves.

Be aware that the person interviewing you may know very little about your country and/or culture. This can lead to misunderstandings in the interview, and ultimately to a refusal of your asylum claim. For example, you may use the word “auntie” or “uncle” to refer to someone you know. In the UK, these words usually have specific meanings – the brother or sister of your mother or father. If you use the word “uncle” in the broader meaning (not someone blood-related to you), for example if you said “my uncle in Philippines helped me”, it will cause confusion if you later say you haven’t got any family in Philippines.

Difficult to talk about

In the asylum substantive interview, you may have to talk about difficult experiences, and remembering these events can be upsetting. It is important, however, to try and give enough detail about the events to explain them to someone who wasn’t there, isn’t from your country, and to explain why these events led to you having to leave your country.Giving details about a physical or sexual assault can be particularly distressing, but your testimony will be used to make a decision on your asylum claim. It is therefore important to include as much information as you can, such as:

  • who attacked you
  • what they were wearing
  • if they were police or army or secret police (and their rank if you know it)
  • what they did to you
  • how often it happened, particularly if you were in prison/detention at the time
  • who else was present;
  • how you managed to survive.

Medical or psychological problems

Do you have any medical or psychological problems? Are these a result of torture/mistreatment in your home country?You should tell the Home Office about these, and show them any evidence of this. If you have scars on your body, you can tell the interviewer this. You should also speak to your lawyer about getting a ‘scarring’ report, or other medico-legal report. 

Soon after the interview, perhaps the next day, you should go through the written record of the interview (the “transcript”) to check for any mistakes or misunderstandings in your answers, or how they were written down, or in the interpretation. You might find it useful to have a friend to help you with this. It may be several months before you receive your asylum decision based on this interview, so it is best to look for potential problems while it is still fresh in your mind.A statement may also be submitted after the interview, particularly if there are things you weren’t given a chance to explain or you think there were problems with the interview. You can do this of your own accord, or the Home Office might even get in touch with you to ask for clarification of certain points. 

After the interview

If you have a lawyer, make sure you have an appointment booked with them to discuss how the interview went, and to submit a statement to the Home Office to correct any mistakes or misunderstandings in the interview or interview record.After your substantive interview, the Home Office will look at the information you gave in your screening interview and then in your substantive interview. The person making the decision on your asylum claim may be the same person who interviewed you, or it may be someone different.They will check if there are any differences, or things they don’t think make sense, or that they don’t think are true. They will look at the information they have about your country, and decide whether they think you are telling the truth and whether you need protection in the UK.You may have documentary evidence that you wish to submit to the Home Office to support your asylum claim. Documentary evidence might include a political party membership card, an arrest warrant, a birth certificate, or newspaper articles about you or about persecution of people like you. Not everyone will have this, because documentary evidence can be hard to get because of the circumstances in which you had to leave your country. You may have or want to get evidence of medical or psychological problems.

If you are going to submit any documentary evidence, make sure you have shown this to your lawyer beforehand and they have agreed it should be submitted. You can either give this evidence to the Home Office at the interview, or shortly after the interview.You are able to submit further evidence after the interview, or to clarify your answers if you checked through the transcript and found mistakes or remembered things you didn’t mention during the interview. Generally, you (or your lawyer) should contact the Home Office to ask for a reasonable period of time to submit this information before they provide you with a decision on your case. The Home Office guidance says the following: 

 unless the claimant or legal representative asks for time to provide further information and you agree a reasonable time for them to provide it. Legal representatives must notify the Home Office of the availability of further information and are expected to provide all information relevant to their client’s case at the earliest opportunity.Although the interview is the primary opportunity to clarify unclear statements or inconsistencies within statements or other evidence or with country information material to the claim, you [the Home Office interviewer] have the discretion to seek explanations in writing or by telephone after the interview. For example, where country information research finds information which directly contradicts the claimant’s statements or appears to do so, it would be good practice for both the claimant and the Home Office to clarify the matter in further correspondence, rather than defer the issue to the appeal stage. Where the claimant is represented, all contact must normally be made through their nominated legal representative, except where there are safeguarding concerns.

It can take a long time to get a decision on your asylum claim from the Home Office. You may have to wait several months, maybe even more than a year. It’s very important to be prepared for a refusal (the Home Office denies your asylum claim) so you can take action very quickly.

Want to instruct me?

Thank you for your message. My name is Atty Lindoven Magsino, BSc, MBA, GDL, LLM, Solicitor at MBM Solicitors, 83A First Floor, South Road, Southall, UB1 1SQ, England, United Kingdom. Telephone: 02035002141. Fax 02085710811. Mobile: 07446 888 377. Email: don@mbmsolicitors.com or attydonmagsino@gmail.com

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