An electrician who was wrongly classified as being an illegal immigrant, despite living in London for more than 45 years, was destitute as he waited a year for the Windrush taskforce to decide on his application to stay in the UK, the parliamentary ombudsman has ruled.
Applications to the taskforce were meant to be processed within two weeks. The year-long wait was described as “shocking” by the ombudsman in a detailed report published this week – the latest of a series of highly critical reviews into the performance of the Home Office over the Windrush scandal.
The parliamentary ombudsman has ruled that the Home Office should apologise and pay Mr R £5,000 in compensation for “maladministration and delay” in processing his case. Officials wrongly told him that he would be able to claim benefits while he waited for a decision, but he found himself unable to claim any support.
“He could not work, had no money and could not buy food,” the report stated. “He said he was destitute and felt ‘worthless, broken, with no hope or prospects’.
“He told us everyone slept in the same room at the homeless shelter and he had no privacy. He was not allowed to stay in the building during the day; he spent his time walking the streets or going to the library. All he wanted to do was get his status confirmed so he could work again and begin to rebuild his life.”
Mr R arrived in the UK in 1970 from Nigeria aged eight, but had no way of proving that he had arrived at that time. He lost his home and job as a result of being wrongly classified as an illegal immigrant by the Home Office in 2014.
When the government apologised in April 2018 for wrongly categorising thousands of legal residents as immigration offenders, he applied for his right to remain in the UK to be formally recognised. His case was complicated because, like many applicants to the scheme, he struggled to find documents proving that he had been in the UK since the early 1970s; staff told him it could take six weeks to come to a decision.
Although a decision was made internally on his case after about two months, officials waited 10 months to communicate the decision to him, the report found. Mr R was not granted status under the scheme because of ongoing difficulties finding documents proving his arrival but was eventually advised about how to make a different application to remain on the grounds of long-term residence.
The ombudsman’s report found that UK Visas and Immigration was “well aware” of Mr R’s “desperate situation yet it repeatedly refused requests to expedite its decision”, and that “UKVI gave responses on the delay that were not in line with our principles of being ‘open, accountable and truthful’”.
The report concludes: “The Windrush scheme was set up to rectify past wrongs and do so with urgency and purpose. It has fallen well short of that in this case.”
Emily Thornberry, the Labour MP for Islington South and Mr R’s MP, said: “It is appalling that this man, who was particularly vulnerable, remained homeless for more than a year due to disgraceful delays on the part of the Home Office. The hostile environment has caused enormous hardship, and the Windrush scheme has let so many people down – the Home Office should be ashamed of themselves.”
The parliamentary and health service ombudsman provides an independent and impartial complaint handling service for complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England and UK government departments.
Rob Behrens, the ombudsman, said he was handling a number of other Windrush complaints. “We encourage anyone who has complained about their treatment under the Windrush scheme to come to us via their local MP if they are not happy with the response they have received.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Mr R’s application under the Windrush scheme was refused and the decision has been upheld following independent review. UKVI apologises for the delay in issuing a decision.”