Home Office paid out £70m in compensation and legal costs last year

<span>Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA</span>
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

The Home Office has been accused of wasting taxpayers’ money after paying out £70m in compensation and associated legal costs, official figures show.

Departmental accounts for 2021-22 show that a total of £41.1m was handed out in compensation, which includes £25.1m to 768 victims of the Windrush scandal and £12.7m to 572 people who were wrongfully detained in immigration centres.

The payouts, highlighted by the Liberal Democrats, are believed to be the highest amount for compensation and legal costs in a single year for at least a decade.

They also show that the Home Office was required to pay £28.8m last year in adverse legal costs for 2,106 cases it lost.

Compensation payments have trebled since Priti Patel became home secretary, from £13.6m in 2019-20 to £25.4m in 2020-21 and £41.1m last year.

Priti Patel, home secretary.
Compensation payments have trebled since Priti Patel became home secretary. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

The disclosure comes as the government prepares to spend an undisclosed amount on sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, after a £120m upfront payment for the deal. The Home Office’s most senior civil servant, Matthew Rycroft, said the department was “uncertain” whether the scheme offered “value for money”.

The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, said: “Conservative ministers are pouring taxpayers’ cash down the drain because they can’t even get the basics right. The British people are paying the price for Priti Patel’s appalling incompetence and her contempt for the rule of law.

“The government needs to get a grip and stop this scandalous waste of money. If the Home Office acted lawfully and made decisions properly and fairly, it would save millions that could be spent making our communities safer with more police on the beat.”

The Home Office is braced to spend even more on such payments next year after condemnation for failing to compensate a majority of the Windrush victims who were wrongly classified as illegal immigrants.

The Guardian disclosed in June that just one in four applicants to the scheme had received payments, four years after the government promised redress.

Asylum seekers, foreign offenders and other immigrants can be held in detention ahead of flights. If they are detained for too long or without a reasonable prospect of removal, they can claim compensation.

About three-quarters of the 25,000 people who left detention in 2021-22 were released by the Home Office and a further 10% were freed following a court order. Just 14% were removed from the UK.

Legal claims can also be lodged if the Home Office unlawfully detains vulnerable or ill people, such as victims of torture or trafficking, or those with serious medical conditions.

The figures come amid speculation that Patel is likely to be moved from her current role as home secretary by Liz Truss if the foreign secretary wins the leadership contest in September. A report in the Sun claimed she could be replaced by the current attorney general, Suella Braverman.

Home Office sources said the figures in the annual report relate to payments made in the year listed and will include cases from previous years, not just those settled in the year in question.

Referring to the payments in adverse legal costs, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The British public rightly expect us to do all we can to remove those with no right to be in the United Kingdom including foreign national offenders. We make no apology for continuing to do all we can to keep the British public safe.”