The Home Office is not fit to be in charge of compensation for the Windrush generation, campaigners have warned as it emerged that less than a quarter of claimants have received a pay-out.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) criticised the approach to redressing the wrongs done to the Windrush generation, arguing that it “appears to be failing” them a second time.
In its Windrush Compensation Scheme report, published on Tuesday, the committee said the remuneration scheme is too complex and too slow to hand out money. The report also focused on staff issues, with only six people at first hired to deal with a predicted 15,000 claims.
“The Home Office promised to learn lessons from the Windrush scandal, but having failed the Windrush generation once, it appears to be failing them again,” MPs said.
This comes as Windrush Lives, a campaigning group, and the Good Law Project rolled out a survey to gather the views of people who are eligible for compensation and collate information about the experiences of people who have already been through the scheme.
Ramya Jaidev, of Windrush Lives, told The Independent that the PAC report “isn’t news for any of the victims who have been battling through” the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
“The Home Office has directed its efforts at making it appear, to the general public, that it is doing a lot and making changes to deliver a better scheme,” she said.
“The reality is that the changes it has made tinker around the edges and ignore the serious structural problems embedded in the scheme, such as the types of evidence that are demanded, chronic understaffing as exposed by the National Audit Office’s report, and the fundamental issue of believing what victims say.
“That is why so many claimants are stuck endlessly in the process.”
Ms Jaidev went on to explain that there are serious concerns as to the quality of the offers for those who have taken a settlement through the compensation scheme.
“Anecdotally, we know initial offers are generally poor and claimants have to go through one or multiple rounds of review, which lengthens the process and adds massive amounts of stress,” she said.
“Claimants have ended up accepting offers they are not happy with because they need to urgently repay debts, or they have been driven to their limits and just want the whole thing over. Having to take a poor settlement in such conditions is no justice at all – we are talking about people who have been driven into poverty by the Home Office being forced into taking demeaning offers because they have no choice. That is another trauma to add to the pile.”
Ms Jaidev added: “This shows that even when these problems are pinpointed and put to the Home Office quite specifically, there is a wall of resistance. This is part of the reason why we and many others argue that the Scheme must be stripped from the Home Office.
“The Windrush scandal is itself a product of the open racism of the Enoch Powell era; it follows therefore that the sluggish, opaque and disrespectful way this process has been handled, despite the admission that the Home Office caused this, is an extension of that.
“The conduct of the compensation scheme is an expression of the fact that nothing has changed, fundamentally, in how the Home Office values Black and brown people.”
The Windrush scandal erupted in 2018 when British citizens, mostly from the Caribbean, were wrongly detained, deported or threatened with deportation, despite having the right to live in Britain.
Many lost homes and jobs and were denied access to healthcare and benefits.
Following public outcry, the government implemented this compensation programme, designed to reimburse those impacted by the scandal.
The Empire Windrush carried one of the first large groups of West Indian immigrants from Jamaica to the UK after the Second World War; they were among tens of thousands of people – known as the Windrush generation – to arrive from 1948 to help rebuild post-war Britain.
Gemma Abbott, legal director at Good Law Project, said: “The Windrush Compensation Scheme is not fit for purpose, and the Home Office seems neither equipped nor willing to bring it up to scratch. It is high time that the scheme was removed from Home Office control and run independently.
“The survey we have created with Windrush Lives is vital in helping us to understand the experiences of people eligible for the scheme, and to allow us to explore potential legal action against the Home Office.
“We are asking anyone eligible for the Windrush Compensation Scheme to fill out the survey, whether they have applied for the scheme or not, to help us hold the Home Office to account. Justice is long overdue.”
Campaigner Patrick Vernon wrote to prime minister Boris Johnson and the home secretary Priti Patel on Tuesday, requesting their attendance to urgent meeting with survivors of the scandal. His petition calling for a re-haul of the compensation scheme has amassed over 100,000 signatures.
The PAC’s findings come less than a week after Ms Patel announced she was scrapping the April 2023 deadline to submit compensation claims, instead making it indefinite.
The 17-page report said that when MPs took evidence in June, only 412 of the 2,367 claims submitted had received a final payment despite the process being open for two years.
In an update to the Commons earlier this month, home office minister Kit Malthouse put the number of people who had been awarded money at 732, with £24m paid out from the £32m on offer.
The PAC report also said people were “still waiting far too long to receive compensation” and that Ms Patel’s department had made “little progress” in processing claims where people had died, resulting in “future distress” for those families.
Only four out of 132 claims made on behalf of the estate of someone who had died had received payment, it added.
The scheme design was “too complex”, failing to take into consideration that many of the original difficulties suffered by the Windrush generation were due to not having the documentation they needed to back up their right to remain in Britain.
“The department designed a scheme which demands evidence it acknowledges many claimants do not have,” the MPs noted.
They said government estimates for how many of those hit by the scandal would apply for compensation had been “completely wrong”, while there were also criticisms of the lack of caseworkers hired.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary has overhauled the Windrush scheme, increasing the amount of compensation paid from £3 million to almost £27 million, with a further £7.1 million offered to victims.
“It is completely wrong to suggest we are discriminating against those applying to the scheme.
“The issues the PAC report raises are already being addressed and just last week we announced further improvements to simplify the application process, new support measures for those claiming on behalf of relatives who have passed away and the removal of the scheme’s end date - to ensure all victims get the compensation they deserve.”