Only 60 people have received Windrush compensation payments during the first year of the scheme’s operation, with just £360,000 distributed from a fund officials expected might be required to pay out between £200m and £500m.
There has been rising concern among support groups working with those affected by the Home Office scandal about the slowness of compensation offers, and about the difficulties experienced by those trying to claim.
One individual has received a payment of more than £100,000, which suggests the other 59 people who have been granted compensation will have received relatively low payouts averaging £4,400, according to figures released on Thursday. The Home Office has stressed that many of these are interim payments, and people will likely receive further instalments at a later date.
By the end of March, 1,275 people had applied under the scheme. Many of those who are still waiting for compensation remain in difficult financial circumstances, as a direct result of their treatment by the Home Office when they were mistakenly classified as being in the UK illegally, as a result of the “hostile environment” against illegal immigration introduced by Theresa May, when she was home secretary from 2010 onwards.
Who are the Windrush generation?
They are people who arrived in the UK after the second world war from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government. The first group arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in June 1948.
What happened to them?
An estimated 50,000 people faced the risk of deportation if they had never formalised their residency status and did not have the required documentation to prove it.
It stems from a policy, set out by Theresa May when she was home secretary, to make the UK 'a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants'. It requires employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.
Why do they not have the correct paperwork and status?
Some children, often travelling on their parents’ passports, were never formally naturalised and many moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, so they assumed they were British. In some cases, they did not apply for passports. The Home Office did not keep a record of people entering the country and granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1 January 1973.
What did the government try and do to resolve the problem?
A Home Office team was set up to ensure Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally. But a month after one minister promised the cases would be resolved within two weeks, many remained destitute. In November 2018 home secretary Sajid Javid revealed that at least 11 Britons who had been wrongly deported had died. In April 2019 the government agreed to pay up to £200m in compensation.
Many were sacked, and subsequently found themselves ineligible for unemployment benefits despite having paid taxes for decades. Some people were evicted from their homes because they built up arrears as a result of being sacked. More than 160 people were mistakenly detained or removed from the country, and sent back to countries they had left as children decades earlier. Many are waiting for compensation payments, so they can repay debts accrued during that period of enforced unemployment.
Some applicants have described being asked to provide very high levels of documentary evidence proving their right to compensation. While there is an understanding of the need to prove eligibility, some have felt the process echoes the original scandal, when they struggled to persuade Home Office staff that they were living in the UK legally, and were asked for large quantities of difficult-to-find documentary proof, showing they had arrived as children in the 1950s and 1960s.
Support groups helping claimants to fill in the application forms say many people have yet to submit their claims, because they are still gathering evidence to prove eligibility. Since the government first apologised for its mistakes two years ago, more than 12,000 people have received documentation from the Home Office confirming they are living in the UK legally – a figure that offers an indication of the number of people who may eventually claim compensation.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “By listening to feedback from community leaders and those affected, we have begun to put right the wrongs caused to a generation who have contributed so much to our country.
“The Windrush compensation scheme has been developed to ease the burden from the unacceptable mistreatment some have faced, which is why it is so important that people continue to come forward.”
The Home Office said a further £280,000 of compensation had been offered to claimants, but not yet paid out, possibly because applicants felt the offer did not reflect the extent of the difficulties experienced.
Twenty-three people have been told they are not eligible for any payment and 27 have asked for the payments offered to be reviewed by the Home Office. “While the scheme is making good progress and continues to process claims as quickly as possible, the Home Office is committed to getting more people to come forward and claim,” a spokesperson said. “Many of the payments made are interim, which means people will get a far greater award.”
Elwaldo Romeo received a letter in 2018 from the Home Office telling him he was “liable to be detained” because he had “not been given leave to enter the United Kingdom” and offering “support on returning home”, despite the fact he had moved to the UK from Antigua 59 years earlier, aged four. He coordinates the group Windrush Action, made up of people who were affected by the scandal. He said he was “very disappointed” by the slow progress of compensation payments, but urged people who have been affected to come forward and make claims.
Judy Griffith was told by a jobcentre employee that she was an illegal immigrant, 52 years after moving to the UK from Barbados. She could not travel, so was unable to see her mother before she died. As a result of being unable to work she got into significant arrears on her flat. She is waiting for compensation so she can pay back the arrears and repay friends and relatives who helped her when she was classified as an illegal immigrant. She applied for compensation more than six months ago and is still waiting.
“I understand that they have to verify everything but I am still in arrears, still trying to keep my head above water, still getting calls from the council about the arrears. We’re still suffering and they don’t seem to understand how badly it has affected our lives,” she said.