Windrush generation and the Home Office Contents

2The Department’s response

Limited support programmes

15.Vernon Vanriel, a member of the Windrush generation, told us that after being denied entry to the UK in 2007, he remained in Jamaica until the Department funded his return to the UK in September 2018.34 He told us he is still waiting for council housing, having lost his home when he was not allowed to return to the UK, and is having to rely on family.35 The Department has apologised for its treatment of the Windrush Generation, and says it has a vulnerable persons team helping those affected. Lack of housing is the one of the most prominent and debilitating issue for many victims, however the Department told us responsibility for this lies with local authorities. The Department explained that their vulnerable persons team can help people with their applications for benefits and registering with a GP, but cannot direct local authorities or housing associations to provide people with accommodation.36 The Department referred to the cross-Government taskforce but said that nobody on the taskforce would be personally responsible for housing Windrush generation members because this role lies with local authorities.37 The Department acknowledged that it had not thought about alternatives, such as actions taken following the Grenfell Tower disaster.38

16.The Department acknowledged it is dealing with a vulnerable set of people with a wide range of needs.39 In December 2018, 8 months after the Windrush scandal began in earnest, the Department announced its financial support programme for Windrush generation members with an ‘urgent and exceptional need’, otherwise known as its ‘hardship fund’.40 The Department accepted that it took too long to set this up, and admitted it had not tested the scheme to see how user-friendly and understandable it is.41 The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants expressed concern that the hardship fund was inadequate and had set a very high and difficult bar for people to reach in order to secure support.42 The hardship fund is separate from the Department’s compensation scheme. The Department intends to start making payments from its compensation scheme in Spring 2019.43 The Department said it cannot and will not announce the scheme until it is able to fund it.44

Narrow review of cases

17.The Department acknowledged that it has always known that there are a large number of citizens living in the UK lawfully who do not have the documentation to prove their status.45 In 2014 it estimated there may be up to 500,000 such people in the UK.46 The Department admitted that it lost sight of this group of people when it was developing and implementing its policies.47 The Department said it focused its review of historical cases of detentions, removals, and compliant environment sanctions on Caribbean nationals because its own evidence suggests that these are the people most likely to have suffered in relation to unfair removals or detentions, but accepts that a wider group of people could be affected by its compliant environment sanctions.48 It has also released data showing that people from other nationalities, including India, Australia and Nigeria, have approached it for help.49 The Department argues that reviewing the cases of around 160,000 non-commonwealth nationals, would be operationally ‘disproportionate’ because it could take up to 200 staff over a year to do.50 This is despite also telling us that the operational impact of moving 175 staff into its Windrush reform programme from a wider pool of over 7,000 staff, had been minimal.51

18.The Department set up its Windrush Scheme in April 2018 to help people resolve their immigration status. While the Department is actively looking for Caribbean nationals it has identified through its historical review, it expects people from other Commonwealth nations to seek help themselves through contacting the taskforce.52 During the evidence session we were told that contacting the Department can be especially problematic, with applicants historically facing a ‘wall of silence’ and a lack of engagement.53 We have also received written evidence on the difficulties of applying from Nigeria, with the Department being accused of assuming that those in need of help have easy and regular access to a mobile phone, the internet, or email.54 The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association explained that not every person in need of help will be aware of this until they run into difficulty. It described those affected by the scandal as a ‘self-selecting population’, meaning they were only likely to be ‘captured’ if they were excluded from the United Kingdom for instance, or ran into problems when applying for a pension or a benefit that requires they prove their right to be in the country. It was only then that they would be likely to seek help.55

Insufficient promotion of the Windrush scheme

19.The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants told us that while use of the word ‘Windrush’ has been helpful in terms of campaigning, it has been less so in making people aware of whether or not they might be entitled to support from the Windrush scheme. It said it knew of cases where people had assumed they could not be part of the Windrush generation because they were the ‘wrong nationality’, or because they did not arrive in the UK on the HMT Windrush itself. It stressed that the Department should not only investigate non-Caribbean cases, but also needed to do more to promote the message that the scandal did not only affect Caribbean nationals.56 Written evidence we have received pointed to the need for greater promotion of the Windrush scheme by the Department, and expressed concern that the scandal is being portrayed as only affecting Caribbean Commonwealth citizens, when it is affecting people from the entire Commonwealth.

20.The Department explained that it was promoting the Windrush scheme through ‘communication assets’ such as wallet cards and posters. It also told us that it relied on non-government organisations, MPs, local authorities and its own volunteer cohort to publicise the scheme, as it believed its own communications such as press notices were less likely to be effective due to public mistrust of the Department following the scandal.57 The Department has also told us that there has been international and diaspora media coverage of the taskforce to support anyone affected.58 This contrasts with written evidence we have received stating otherwise. Gertrude Chinegwundoh told us that she travelled to Nigeria in the summer to meet with Windrush individuals and, for the six weeks she was there, “did not hear anything in the media about Windrush and how those affected can apply from Nigeria.”59 The Department told us there had been high levels of coverage in the Caribbean specifically of the scheme, but it was planning further targeted media to non-Caribbean Commonwealth countries including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.60

34 Qq 1, 35

35 Qq 10–15

36 Qq 59, 61–63

37 Qq 65–66

38 Qq 68, 71–73

39 Q 71

41 Qq 172–178

42 Q 56

43 C&AG’s report, paras 18, 4.5

44 Qq 189–190

45 Q 75

46 Q 24; C&AG’s report, paras 11, 2.14

47 Qq 75–77

48 Qq 98, 148, 159.

50 Qq 99, 148; C&AG’s report, paras 10, 2.11

51 Qq 157–163

53 Q 3

54 Qq 101–102; Written evidence from Gertrude Chinegwundoh (WIN0001)

55 Q 39

56 Q 37

57 Qq 104–106

58 Letter from Home Office to PAC dated 8 January 2019

59 Written evidence from Gertrude Chinegwundoh (WIN0001)

60 Letter from Home Office to PAC dated 8 January 2019

Published: 6 March 2019