Windrush compensation scheme ‘not fit for purpose’ as refusals soar and offers plunge
The Windrush compensation scheme is “not fit for purpose”, it has been claimed, as new figures show rejections for payouts have soared while offers have plunged.
In the year to October 2022, payout offers were made to 376 claimants compared to 783 rejections in the same period – including zero-sum awards and refusals on eligibility grounds.
The figures are a dramatic change from 2021, when the Home Office approved 835 offers and made 458 rejections.
And in some cases, even if offered the payouts can be extremely low with one man telling The Independent he was awarded just £250.
Windrush activists and claimants argue the scheme’s “fatal flaw” is that the department responsible for the scandal is also overseeing the payment system.
The compensation scheme was launched in April 2019 after it emerged that hundreds of Caribbean immigrants living and working in the UK were wrongly targeted by immigration enforcement as a result of the government’s “hostile environment” policies.
But campaigners have criticised the process as well as the outcomes, with claims the system is not fit for purpose.
“The process is so onerous and rigorous that it’s hard to imagine someone would go through it if they didn’t need to do so,” Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) campaigner Mary Atkinson told The Independent.
“There are still over 100 claims a month that suggest the outreach is working. It shows how difficult it is to reckon with the fact you’ve been denied your rights because of these policies – there’s a lot of shame and stigma and fear.
The criteria for eligibility in the scheme is predominantly based on the claimant being a Commonwealth citizen settling in the UK before 1 January 1973, in addition to their children and grandchildren.
The guidelines for determining how much a claimant receives are based on how they were impacted, including loss of employment, loss of access to child benefit or working tax credit, denial of access to services including the NHS, homelessness and living costs during that period.
Currently, 1,859 total claims are still being processed while 3,717 are awaiting a decision on an appeal.
Speaking to The Independent about the reasons for the disparity between offers and refusals of compensation, the campaigner Patrick Vernon OBE claimed the Home Office lacked understanding of the lived experience of the Windrush scandal victims.
“Having gone through the scandal, the government is effectively saying to lots of compensation claimants that they can’t see any evidence, financially or emotionally, that they’ve been impacted by the ordeal, so, therefore, can’t give them money,” he said.
“There aren’t enough people working at the Home Office with an understanding of the history of the Windrush generation and the history of racism struggles that we go through.”
Joel Oswald is appealing a zero-sum award offered in May to his 89-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Oswald-Williams, who was also told she wasn’t a British citizen. Her passport was taken from her after entering the UK in 1962 in her 20s and living and paying tax here.
Ms Oswald-Williams, who now lives in Jamaica, spent years fighting to regain her citizenship status and was forced to travel back to Jamaica to seek medical treatment because her incorrectly assigned status did not give her free access to the NHS.
“She spent most of the 1980s and 1990s trying to regain her status and she did eventually get her indefinite leave to remain but by then she was a retired woman and lost a lot of life in the UK,” Mr Oswald told The Independent. “By that time she had already accepted defeat in a way.
“Now she’s well into retirement age and hasn’t been able to enjoy her retirement and live in the UK. She should be able to. Her kids have had to fight for visas and temporary stay for her when she wants to come over. She finds that undignifying, she finds it embarrassing.”
Mr Oswald said the Home Office was “marking its own homework and refereeing its own penalty kicks” on the issue.
“I’ve chased my appeal multiple times,” he continued. “It’s an inordinate amount of waiting time, unreasonable, undue delays, lack of accountability, you just get a generic update message.
“I will never give up, if it wasn’t for me my grandmother would have given up.”
Mr Oswald said the Home Office needed to do more to restore public confidence in the process and provide more education and support to claimants to help people with cases come forward and deter people who may be attempting a “fishing exercise”.
Herman Campbell, 56, was initially offered just £250 compensation after being caught in the Windrush scandal. He arrived in the UK from Jamaica as an eight-year-old in 1975 and went to both primary and secondary school in Britain.
Since he was 16 years old, Mr Campbell said he travelled freely to and from the UK using his Jamaican passport stamped with indefinite leave to remain.
However, as a result of documentation issues, he was refused re-entry into the UK in 2017 after a holiday in Turkey while travelling on his Jamaican passport and was told by the country’s border force that he could be deported to Jamaica. After being sent to the British consulate in Turkey to receive support, he was there told he was not a British citizen.
“I was very scared when I was told that because I’d heard of this situation of people being deported because they didn’t have legal status although they’d been working here [the UK] for ages,” Mr Campbell told The Independent.
After a week trapped in Turkey, Mr Campbell’s family was able to send documents proving that the UK had been his home for more than four decades.
When Mr Campbell returned to the UK to appeal his case with the Home Office he was shocked to be told that there were no records of his parents entering the UK.
“Up to this day I am scared to leave this country because you can have the British passport but it doesn’t guarantee when I fly there won’t be complications,” Mr Campbell said. “The scheme is not fit for purpose. The adjudicator’s office has been appointed by the Home Office.”
Mr Campbell said he feels the Home Office makes the application and appeal process extensively rigorous so people will give up and take lower offers.
Desmond Jaddoo, chair of the Windrush National Organisation, said: “This disparity was raised at our international conference in October and, as a part of us moving forward on this matter, will be addressed in our report which is due to be published in February.”
He added that the Home Office had pledged to address disparities.
According to the Home Office, a rejected claim means an application has not met the eligibility criteria to be considered for compensation while zero entitlement awards are those determined to be eligible to apply for compensation but “following full consideration were not entitled to receive a compensation payment”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We continue to work with claimants to pay the maximum award available at the earliest point possible and to get the right decision first time.
“The mistreatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments was completely unacceptable and we are determined to right those wrongs.”