Fundamental design flaws with the Windrush compensation scheme for victims of the coalition government’s “hostile environment” illegal immigration policy mean the Home Office is “failing the Windrush generation all over again”, according to a damning report from MPs.
Members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said that the Home Office had “made the wrong key assumptions” in setting up the scheme, which was launched in 2019, and had significantly underestimated the complexity and work involved in the claims.
The scheme originally envisaged paying out a total of up to to £310m to around 15,000 people affected by the hostile environment policy, because they or their family members could not demonstrate their right to live and work in the UK – with some being wrongly deported as a result. But the actual number of claims and payouts to date have been much lower.
The PAC said that two years after the scheme launched, only 412 of the 2,367 claims submitted had received a final payment, while some claimants had died before their applications were dealt with.
MPs said that as of April this year, the scheme had only paid out £20.5m to victims or their families – less than one tenth of the original payout estimate. Conversely, they noted that by the end of March this year the Home Office had spent more than half of its anticipated budget for running the scheme: £8.1m of £15.8m.
They added that at the time they took evidence for the report last month, 132 claims to the scheme had been made on behalf of the estate of someone who had died, but only four of those claims had received payment.
One problem area highlighted by the report is the compensation scheme’s complex design and its demands for documentary evidence from individuals – the lack of which was the nub of the original scandal.
Another significant sphere of concern is the staffing allocated to the compensation scheme, which has never been close to the originally envisaged headcount of 125. When the scheme launched the scheme had just six caseworkers, although by the end of March this year the Home Office was said to have 53 and plans to recruit more.
Despite employing markedly fewer staff to deal with the compensation scheme than was originally envisaged, MPs reported that it was “taking caseworkers far longer than expected to deal with each individual claim”. In 2019 the Home Office anticipated it would take caseworkers an average of 30 hours to deal with each claim, but following a recent report from the National Audit Office, the PAC noted that "in practice it has taken them five times as long.”
Committee chair Dame Meg Hillier said failing to administer the compensation scheme effectively undermined the Home Office’s perceived commitment to righting the wrongs suffered by the Windrush generation and the ambition of its transformation programme.
“Let’s not lose sight of the scale of wrongs that the Home Office has promised to right here,” she said.
“Lifetimes in this country were discounted, people’s homes, families and livelihoods were interrupted and uprooted, some were forced from the country. Some were approaching the end of those lifetimes as this tragedy befell them. Some have died without ever seeing justice or receiving the compensation they deserve.
“Far from learning and applying lessons as promised, the Windrush compensation scheme is beset with the very same issues that led to the initial terrible mistakes.”
The PAC noted that the Home Office had revised down its estimate of how many people may be eligible for compensation under the Windrush scheme to 11,500 not long after the scheme launched, and was currently looking to create a new estimate.
Committee members said a more accurate figure would “improve” the Home Office’s estimate of the overall amount of compensation required and help it to structure “realistic” caseworking requirements to meet.
The Home Office said that as of last week it had adopted planning assumption for claims of between 4,000 and 6,000, to reflect “inherent uncertainty” with the scheme.
A Home Office spokesperson said home secretary Priti Patel had been “resolute” in her determination to put right the wrongs suffered by all those affected by the Windrush scandal.
“Many of the issues raised in this report are already being addressed,” the spokesperson said.
“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. All designed to ensure every victim receives the compensation they deserve.
“And since December, when the home secretary overhauled the scheme, the amount of compensation paid has risen from less than £3m to almost £27m, whilst a further £7.1m has been offered.”
The Home Office said the £27m figure related to 776 claims settled to the end of June, while the “offer” amount related to claims that were either awaiting acceptance or pending review.