Almost 1,400 child asylum seekers have waited for more than five years for an initial decision about their right to remain in the UK, the BBC has found.
Home Office figures obtained by the BBC show delays have almost tripled since January 2014, when 484 children had been waiting for more than five years.
In May the government said it was abandoning a six-month wait target for most asylum applications.
The Home Office said cases involving children “can take longer to resolve”.
In 2014, the Home Office introduced a target to process 98% of straightforward asylum claims within six months.
In a freedom of information request the BBC asked for the number of children under the age of 18 at the time of their asylum application who had been waiting for an initial decision on their asylum claim for more than six months, more than 12 months, and for more than five years in both 2014 and 2018.
In September 2018, there were 6,214 dependant children who had been waiting more than six months for an initial decision – almost a 47% rise in four years compared with January 2014.
The number of children waiting more than five years increased at an even steeper rate – rising from 484 in 2014 to 1,396 in September 2018.
Last year, there were 29,380 new asylum claims – from people of all ages. In the same year 21,119 decisions were made on existing claims.
Rupinder Parhar, policy officer at The Children’s Society, said the lives of “vulnerable young people are being unfairly put on hold” by the delays.
“This uncertainty can have a devastating impact upon their mental health, particularly if they are unaccompanied in the UK, and are already struggling with the trauma of unimaginable horrors including war, persecution, torture and abuse.”
Long delays have meant some asylum seekers have turned 18 while waiting for a decision on their applications.
Applicants are not allowed to work while their application is considered, often leaving them dependent on limited UK government asylum support benefits.
The government allows £37.75 per week in asylum support for each person in a household.
Being a pregnant mother or having a child between the ages of one and three allows an additional £3, while a household with a baby under one is allowed an extra £5 per week.
The rules do allow individuals who have waited longer than 12 months for an initial decision on their claim to request permission to work. They will only be allowed to take up a job which is included on the list of shortage occupations.
These occupations include engineering jobs, medical roles, and IT specialists. Those lacking the relevant qualifications and experience for these specific jobs will be denied permission to work.
A Home Office spokesman said asylum cases involving children are often “highly complex, with stringent safeguards regarding child welfare, and can take longer to resolve.
“We are currently working closely with other agencies on a new service standard for decision-making in these cases.”
Additional research by Ben Butcher