The Home Office’s management of the Windrush compensation scheme has been so poor that it should be stripped of responsibility for it, the Home Affairs Committee has said.
A report today painted a picture of an under-staffed, badly-designed scheme with even senior civil servants kept in the dark about decisions. Cross-party MPs on the committee said the Home Office’s design of the scheme reproduced many of “the same bureaucratic insensitivities” that led to the Windrush debacle in the first place.
The scheme was intended to compensate people who had been denied their lawful immigration status “as a result of Home Office policies and practices over very many years”, the report said.
MPs said it would have been better had the Home Office never been involved and the scheme run by an independent body from the outset.
“In order to increase trust and encourage more applicants, we believe that the scheme should be transferred to an independent organisation,” it said.
The report noted, “the vast majority of people who applied for compensation have yet to receive a penny” and the scheme had been so poorly administered that it had “compounded the injustices faced as a result of the Windrush scandal”.
By 30 September, only 20% of the initially estimated 15,000 eligible claimants had applied to the scheme and only 5% had received compensation.
The report found “a litany of flaws in the design and operation of the scheme including an excessive burden on claimants to provide documentary evidence of losses, long delays in processing, poor communication and inadequate staffing”.
Review decisions were withheld even from senior managers. The report said: “We cannot understand why the Home Office has designed a system which does not allow senior civil servants, ministers or this committee to monitor the outcome of reviews of compensation offers.”
MPs were also highly critical of the lack of independent involvement in the scheme.
“Given the Home Office’s role in causing the initial harm it is extremely problematic that [it] is not only responsible for the design and administration of the Windrush Compensation Scheme, but that it also retains full control over interpretation of the scheme rules,” the report said.
It said there should be a demonstrably independent, single-stage review process in which claimants could have greater confidence, such as a judge-led panel, whose decisions the Home Office “should accept and implement”.
Although the report welcomed changes made in December 2020 to accelerate payments, it said these had not gone far enough.
The committee urged immediate action to increase the number of applicants, with preliminary payments of £10,000 made within two months to all found eligible.
But confidence in the scheme had been undermined by “keeping [it] within the very department that caused the scandal in the first place”.
Committee chair and Labour MP Yvette Cooper said: "It has been four years since the Windrush scandal emerged and it is truly shocking how few people have received any compensation for the hardship they endured at the hands of the Home Office.”
Cooper said delays and errors had compounded injustices and called it “staggering, given the failures of the Windrush scandal, that the Home Office has allowed some of the same problems to affect the Windrush compensation scheme too”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The home secretary and the department remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that members of the Windrush generation receive every penny of compensation that they are entitled to.”
The statement added: “We firmly believe that moving the operation of the scheme out of the Home Office would risk significantly delaying vital payments to those affected.”
After the changes last December, the Home Office said the amount of compensation paid has risen from less than £3m to exceed £31.6m, with a further £5.6m having been offered.
Alba Kapoor, senior policy officer at race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, which has campaigned for Windrush victims, said: “It is totally unacceptable that four years on so few people have received compensation despite the devastating wrongs that they have faced.
“These figures speak for themselves in highlighting the incompetence of the Home Office in addressing its own failures, and brings into question whether anything has been learnt from this scandal.”
Kapoor endorsed the committee’s call for an independent organisation to take the scheme over from the Home Office.