1.People are still waiting far too long to receive compensation from the scheme. The Department has been slow to process compensation claims, with some claimants dying whilst waiting for compensation. At the time we took evidence in June, the Department had made final payments to only 412 claims of the 2,367 it had received. It is unwilling to set a timeframe for making decisions on claims, leaving claimants frustrated and reflecting no sense of urgency in improving the speed of compensation. The Department has, however, set itself an internal target to conclude 90% of claims submitted before the end of 2020 by the end of August 2021, and claims to be confident it will hit it, but will need a significant improvement in performance if it is to do so. The Department claims holding approximately six months’-worth of cases is ‘about the right number’ of cases for it to have in the scheme. It took until December 2020 before the Department made substantial changes to the scheme, in order to fix problems with it. The Department hints that further changes to the scheme are required and that it plans to make significant ones, but has not yet confirmed what these changes might be or when they might be introduced.
Recommendation: The Department must, as a matter of urgency, speed up its processing of payments. It should update us immediately after August on its performance to date and its progress against its internal targets.
2.The scheme design was too complex and made it difficult for victims to engage with. Many of the difficulties suffered by the Windrush generation were due to insufficient documentation, and yet the Department designed a scheme which demands evidence it acknowledges many claimants do not have. It claims its approach was designed to minimise the evidence required of claimants while also doing enough to be sure that people were eligible for compensation. One area exemplifies the difficulties involved: the Department has made little progress in processing claims where people have died, causing their families further distress. At the time we took evidence, only four out of 132 claims made on behalf of the estate of someone who has died had received payment. More broadly, the Department argues that it tries to strike a balance between simplicity of process while also making the scheme comprehensive but accepts that, in retrospect, it could have done things differently at the beginning. Not administering the scheme effectively undermines the Department’s perceived commitment to righting the wrongs suffered by the Windrush generation and the ambition of its transformation programme.
Recommendation: The Department should identify aspects of the claims process which are not working as effectively as they should, for example helping to remove logistical barriers from estate claims, and set out in the Treasury Minute response:
3.The Department’s planning estimates for the scheme have been completely wrong. When it set up the compensation scheme in April 2019 the Department made a series of key assumptions about how the scheme would work, which have not matched what has happened in practice. For example, it thought that around 15,000 people might be eligible, an estimate it revised down to 11,500 in October 2019. In fact it has only received about a fifth of even the revised estimate and is now looking to revise it again. It also thought that each case would take its caseworkers, on average, about 30 hours to process; whereas in practice it has taken them five times as long. The Department’s estimate that it might pay out compensation of between £120 million and £310 million was exceedingly broad, but by the end of April 2021 it had only paid out £20.5 million. In mid-2019 the Department disagreed with this Committee’s recommendation that it should do more to engage with Commonwealth citizens from countries outside the Caribbean who could be affected; in doing so it unnecessarily delayed efforts to reach more people, and now recognises it could have done more earlier.
Recommendation: The Department should use its experience to date and knowledge gained from its community engagement work to formulate, as soon as possible, a new assessment of how many people it now thinks are eligible, which will in turn improve its estimate of the overall amount of compensation required and help structure realistic caseworking requirements to meet. It should write to us once this work is completed to explain its new estimate, the basis of the assumptions it has used in formulating this estimate and how it will monitor how well this estimate matches reality.
4.The Department launched the scheme without the caseworkers it required to deliver the complex scheme it designed and has never had the operational capacity it needs, leaving people waiting for decisions. When it launched the scheme, the Department had only six caseworkers to deal with processing claims, compared to the 125 it considered it would need. It has never caught up and appears to still be significantly understaffed. While it has also been taking caseworkers far longer than expected to deal with each individual claim, there have been errors and inconsistencies in the way claims have been processed, with quality assurance checks often finding that cases need revisiting and work repeated. The Department says it now has plans to review its training for caseworkers with a view to improving the process. It is also looking at how it can restructure the way it organises its caseworkers across all areas of the Department to bring together expertise.
Recommendation: The Department should write to the Committee within one month setting out its plan to improve its caseworking operations, including: