Windrush: Home Office has compensated just 5% of victims in four years
Just 5% of Windrush victims have received compensation four years after the scandal emerged, according to a damning report by cross-party MPs which called for the scheme to be taken out of Home Office control.
The report from the home affairs select committee found that the compensation scheme, for which up to 15,000 people were expected to qualify, had compounded injustices faced by the Windrush generation, with some applicants saying the process has become a source of further trauma rather than redress.
Twenty-three eligible applicants have died before getting a payment, the committee found. It recommended transferring the scheme from Priti Patel’s department to an independent organisation in order to “rebuild trust”.
In 2017 the Guardian uncovered the Windrush scandal, under which the UK government erroneously classified thousands of legal residents as illegal immigrants after they arrived from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1971. By the end of September 2021, only about 3,022 had applied for compensation compared with initial estimates of up to 15,000. Just 864 had received a payout, MPs found.
Their select committee report is the fourth critical investigation into delays in delivering justice to those affected by the scandal, and follows equally critical publications from the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the legal charity Justice.
The new report identifies a “litany of flaws in the design and operation” of the compensation scheme including an excessive burden on claimants to provide documentary evidence of the losses they suffered, long delays in processing applications and making payments, inadequate staffing of the scheme and a failure to provide urgent and exceptional payments to those in desperate need.
It was “staggering” that the Home Office failed adequately to prepare for, resource and staff the Windrush compensation scheme before its launch, the report notes.
The Home Office’s own research has identified lack of trust as a barrier, with 12% of respondents in a survey it carried out saying they believed the Windrush schemes were set up to “send people who are in the UK illegally back to their country of origin”.
The report says: “No amount of compensation could ever repay the fear, humiliation, hurt and hardship that was caused to individuals who were affected. That the design and operation of this scheme contained the same bureaucratic insensitivities that led to the Windrush scandal in the first place is a damning indictment of the Home Office, and suggests that the culture change it promised in the wake of the scandal has not yet occurred.”
The report criticises the decision not to allocate funding for legal support to help applicants fill in forms for compensation. Currently most applicants are kept waiting for more than a year before receiving a final payment, and 214 claimants have been waiting more than 18 months.
Sylvester Marshall arrived in London from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973 to join his mother, an NHS nurse. After 44 years working as a mechanic he was denied free radiotherapy cancer treatment when he could not show proof that he was in the UK legally, and was told he would have to pay £54,000.
He was made homeless by the council, and spent several weeks sleeping in a park. He applied for compensation 14 months ago and although he has received a £10,000 preliminary payment, he is waiting for a full settlement.
“I’m fed up with the whole matter. If the government took this seriously, they would already have paid it. I don’t think they care, to be honest,” he said, adding that he needed the compensation to pay off debts incurred when he was prevented from working after being classified as an illegal immigrant. “It’s really getting me down. I can’t move forward. I’d like to pay off my bills and give my children some money.”
His lawyer Jeremy Bloom, of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said he was puzzled by the delay. “I don’t think it is a complicated claim, or whatever the complications are, it shouldn’t take over a year.”
Alba Kapoor, senior policy officer with the Runnymede Trust race equality thinktank, said: “How many more deaths will there be before the horrors of the Windrush scandal are addressed in a competent, compassionate and supportive manner?”
A Home Office spokesperson said moving the operation of the scheme out of the department would “risk significantly delaying vital payments to those affected”, adding: “The home secretary and the department remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that members of the Windrush generation receive every penny of compensation that they are entitled to.
“The home secretary overhauled the scheme in December to ensure more money is paid more quickly – since then the amount of compensation paid has risen from less than £3m to over £31.6m, with a further £5.6m having been offered. There is no cap on the amount of compensation we will pay out.”