It is taking Home Office staff more than five times the amount of time the department first expected to process Windrush compensation scheme claims, a report has found.
When the scheme opened in April 2019, the department estimated it would take 30 hours to work through each case. In reality, each one has taken 154 hours on average.
The department’s underestimation of the time needed to unpick complex cases is just one reason for lengthy delays to processing and payouts, a National Audit Office report, published today, shows.
By the end of March, the Home Office had paid out just £14.3m to members of the Windrush generation and their families – having initially predicted it would pay out between £120m and £310m.
The scheme was especially slow to process cases for the first year and a half of operation, having opened before kinks had been ironed out, the report found.
The watchdog also noted that the Home Office had assigned far fewer staff to processing compensation claims than it first said it would.
The scheme opened with the equivalent of just six full-time caseworkers when it opened – despite stating initially that it expected to need 125 full-time equivalent caseworkers from the outset. The department spent just £8.1m of its £15.8m budget for the first year of running the scheme, with just £6.3m spent on staff.
This added to the lengthy delays in handling claims, even though the Home Office has received far fewer claims than it expected.
As of this March, there are 53 FTE caseworkers in post, but the NAO said its records “have not provided a clear picture of the number of caseworkers it needs”.
The Home Office is considering hiring up to 10 more caseworkers by the end of next month, but “is reluctant to increase the number of caseworkers significantly, because it recognises that the scheme’s complexity means that it takes time for new staff to get up to speed”, the report said.
The report found that policy changes made to the scheme last December – following a barrage of criticism from MPs, the media and those affected by the scheme – had sped up the process somewhat.
By the end of March, the Home Office had paid £14.3m to 633 people. Eighty-one percent of that figure – £11.6m had been paid since the changes were made in December.
The changes also included introducing preliminary payments of £10,000 to claimants, after the Home Office’s cross-government working group determined that by refusing to offer interim payments, the department was failing to fulfil its public sector equality duty to help “reduce or minimise the suffering of all members of the Windrush cohort”.
But despite some improvements, potential Windrush victims are still facing significant delays to payments.
Only around 10% of the applications made since the scheme moved onto a new IT scheme in March 2020 (102 out of 1,033) have reached the payment-approval stage, the report found.
Those 102 applications took an average of 177 days to reach payment approval, with half taking between 109 and 250 days.
Applications had to go through 15 steps on average before payments were approved, the NAO found.
The report comes after the Guardian revealed that 21 Windrush victims had died before they could receive compensation.
Home secretary Priti Patel admitted earlier this month that some claims filed more than two years ago had not yet been settled, and that 281 applicants had been waiting more than a year for their claims to be processed.
Commenting on the report, Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said: “This is yet another example of the Home Office moving at a glacial pace, with little regard for the impact of its actions."
The department "continues to fail the Windrush generation with this bungled compensation scheme", she said.
The Home Office had not responded to a request for a comment at the time of publication.