Concern over the low level of applications to the Windrush compensation scheme has prompted eight leading law firms to join forces to offer free legal advice on completing applications to people affected by the scandal.
Two years after the launch of the compensation programme only 1,996 claims have been made. Official estimates had indicated that more than 12,000 people could be eligible, suggesting that only 17% of those affected have applied.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) is launching a free advice initiative on Thursday to support prospective claimants to complete their applications, as they seek reparations for the catastrophic consequences of being wrongly classified as illegal immigrants by the Home Office.
Thousands of people who had moved to the UK legally in the 1950s and 1960s were later misclassified as immigration offenders. As well as experiencing emotional distress, many of them suffered serious financial consequences as a result of being sacked from their jobs, denied access to housing, banking services, healthcare, pensions and benefits. At least 180 people were mistakenly detained and deported.
No funding for legal support was allocated when the scheme was rolled out in 2019 because the application form was intended to be simple enough for claimants to complete individually. However, an ongoing home affairs select committee parliamentary inquiry into the slow pace of payouts has heard evidence suggesting that many have struggled to fill out the form and supply the required documentary evidence themselves. At least nine people have died after making an application, before being awarded compensation.
There has been concern over whether the compensation scheme should be administered by the Home Office, the same department responsible for the catastrophic mistakes which caused the scandal.
Originally, civil servants thought the scheme might end up paying out somewhere between £200m and £500m, but the latest figures show that by the end of February just £6m had been paid to victims.
Eight law firms have joined with the JCWI to support applicants: Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Charles Russell Speechlys, Debevoise & Plimpton, Dechert, Latham & Watkins, Linklaters, Taylor Wessing, and White & Case.
Improvements to the scheme were announced by the home secretary, Priti Patel, in December, amid concern about the slow progress. A fast-tracked £10,000 award was announced, designed to be paid out as soon as claimants demonstrate that they have suffered as a result of the scandal. By the end of March, 228 of these preliminary awards had been paid out.
A separate legal support group, the Windrush Legal Advice Clinic, was launched in Wolverhampton this week and is staffed by volunteers and lawyers, who want to help claimants with their applications. Patrick Vernon said he was inspired to set up the clinic in memory of Paulette Wilson, a resident of the city and Windrush campaigner, to assist people still seeking justice.
“As we approach the third anniversary of the Windrush scandal many of the issues are still not resolved. Access to legal assistance is still a major barrier,” he said.
Nicola Burgess, the legal director of the JCWI, said: “Two years on from the introduction of the Windrush compensation scheme, it is woefully inadequate that so few people have been able to apply for compensation. The Home Office promised that the people affected would have justice, but they continue to be failed by the government. We hope that this initiative goes some way to support the Windrush generation.”
The Home Office said it had contracted an organisation, We Are Digital, to help vulnerable people to make claims.
In an emailed statement Patel said: “The Windrush generation were failed by successive governments – we launched the Windrush compensation scheme so they could be fairly compensated for the appalling treatment they received. In December I reformed the scheme to ensure payments were made faster and the awards offered were greater. Since then, the amount paid has more than doubled.”