PEOPLE wrongly accused of cheating in English tests may have been removed from the UK, a watchdog has said in a report damning the Home Office.

The National Audit Office (NAO) says the department failed to protect those “caught up” in a language test cheating scandal that led to the cancellation of thousands of immigrants’ visas.

A BBC Panorama programme in 2014 revealed “organised cheating” in two English language test centres run by third parties on behalf of non-profit organisation Educational Testing Service (ETS).

ETS used voice recognition technology to establish who had cheated by having someone else sit their test and, after review by human listeners and other checks, ETS identified 97% of UK tests taken between 2011 and 2014 as suspicious, with 58% of 58,460 exams classed as “invalid” and 39% as “questionable”.

The Home Office – then under Home Secretary Theresa May – investigated colleges, test centres and students, and cancelled the visas of those it considered to have cheated in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).

But further work by the National Union of Students cast doubt over the reliability of the technology used in the ETS review.

And, as of the end of March this year, official data suggests 11,000 test subjects have left the UK, including 2500 who were “forcibly removed” and 400 who were refused re-entry.

In a report issued today, the NAO says these numbers “may be an underestimate”, also stating: “Some people may have been wrongly accused and, in some cases, unfairly removed from the UK.”

Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “When the Home Office acted vigorously to exclude individuals and shut down colleges involved in the English language test cheating scandal, we think they should have taken an equally vigorous approach to protecting those who did not cheat but who were still caught up in the process, however small a proportion they might be. This did not happen.”

Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier MP (pictured above) has called the findings “worrying”. The repercussions of the scandal have cost the taxpayer £21 million.

Calling for those accused to be given the chance to resit and regain visas, Nazek Ramadan, director of the charity Migrant Voice, said: “The Home Office, led by Theresa May, failed to scrutinise the evidence given to them by the testing company and shockingly chose to accept it at face value, despite multiple significant flaws in the data.

“According to that data, more than 6000 British people sat the test, which is simply absurd. No one with UK nationality would ever need to sit the test.

“Around 300 entries were in there twice, the details of where and when a student sat the test were often wrong, nationalities were often listed incorrectly, and some students were accused of cheating who had never sat the test at all.”

But the Home Office said: “The report is clear on the scale and organised nature of the abuse, which is demonstrated by the fact that 25 people who facilitated this fraud have received criminal convictions.”