The Windrush scandal that emerged in the summer of 2017 revealed the huge injustices and hardship faced by members of the Windrush generation who had been denied their lawful immigration status as a result of Home Office policies and practices over very many years. Successive Home Secretaries have subsequently promised to right the wrongs experienced by members of the Windrush cohort, and to recognise the financial loss and emotional distress that Government actions caused. Following recommendations from our predecessor Committee, the Department established the Windrush Compensation Scheme in April 2019.
This inquiry was prompted by serious concerns about long delays and difficulties in applying for the compensation scheme. We are seriously troubled that instead of providing a remedy, for many people the Windrush Compensation Scheme has actually compounded the injustices faced by the Windrush generation.
Our inquiry found that the vast majority of people who have applied for compensation have yet to receive a penny: for some, the experience of applying for compensation has become a source of further trauma rather than redress, and others have been put off from applying for the scheme altogether. We are deeply concerned that as of the end of September, only 20.1% of the initially estimated 15,000 eligible claimants have applied to the scheme and only 5.8% have received any compensation. It further compounds the Windrush scandal that twenty-three individuals have died without receiving compensation for the hardship they endured.
We identified a litany of flaws in the design and operation of the Windrush Compensation Scheme, which we explore in this report. These include: the excessive burden on claimants to provide documentary evidence of the losses they suffered; long delays in processing applications and making payments, and inadequate staffing of the scheme; a failure to provide urgent and exceptional payments to individuals in desperate need, and delays in launching and adequately supporting grassroots campaigns designed to reach eligible claimants and rebuild confidence in the Department and the scheme. Ultimately, many of the concerns raised with us about the compensation scheme as part of this inquiry echo the same criticisms made of the Home Office by Wendy Williams in her Lessons Learned Review. We can only conclude that four years on from the Windrush scandal, vital lessons have still not been learned by the Department.
We strongly welcome the changes made in December 2020 to accelerate payments and make improvements to the scheme; however, we are concerned that these changes do not go far enough and we make a number of recommendations for further action.
The Windrush generation are an ageing cohort and urgent action is needed to speed up payments. We call for the preliminary £10,000 impact on life award to be provided within two months to all those the Department has previously acknowledged were wrongly subjected to immigration enforcement measures or were wrongly denied proof of their lawful status as a result of the Windrush scandal, irrespective of whether the claimant can evidence harm or financial loss, to ensure that every individual affected is granted some compensation quickly.
We are concerned that too many people who cannot document what their earnings were or would have been are receiving a general award for loss of access to employment which is limited to the 2019 National Living Wage. We recommend increasing the general award tariff to at least next year’s National Living Wage of £9.50 per hour.
We heard from individuals who said they needed legal support to access and engage with the scheme,1 and the scheme’s former independent adviser, Martin Forde QC, told us applications completed with legal assistance would speed things up “dramatically”.2 We therefore urge the Home Office to guarantee access to legal assistance for all claimants who require it.
We are very concerned that many people are still too fearful of the Home Office to apply for compensation. The Home Office should bolster its support for grassroots campaigns and community outreach work, ensuring that those in which the community has confidence are adequately supported in their work to reach eligible claimants and to restore their confidence in the Department and the scheme.
We consider the establishment of a more robust and efficient review process to be an important step in improving confidence in the scheme. We therefore call on the Home Office to establish a demonstrably independent single-stage review process in which claimants have greater confidence, such as a judge-led panel.
The treatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments was truly shameful. 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. In order to increase trust and encourage more applicants, we believe that the scheme should be transferred to an independent organisation. We also urge Wendy Williams to look at the compensation scheme as part of her review of the Home Office’s progress on her recommendations.