The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has revealed that his department has provided emergency financial assistance to just 13 Windrush victims so far, even as he pledged to ensure people who have been sanctioned or detained because of the Home Office’s hostile environment policy receive support.
The Home Office launched its compensation scheme in March, but has not yet made any payments to members of the Windrush generation – Commonwealth nationals who arrived in the UK before 1973 – who have been affected by policies designed to deter people from living in the UK illegally, despite having a legal right to be in the country.
The department opened a scheme in December to provide emergency financial assistance scheme in “exceptional cases” where people’s need was so immediate that they could not wait for the full rollout of the compensation scheme, but Javid said yesterday that only 13 people had been able to access the funds.
In a letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Javid said 91 people had applied for emergency support as of 30 April, meaning just one in seven people who had applied for help had been successful. Forty-one applications for emergency support had been refused, three had been withdrawn and the remaining 34 were still being considered, Javid said.
The letter, which updated HASC on the Home Office's progress on dealing with the Windrush scandal, said 6,470 people had so far received documentation proving their right to remain in the UK through the Windrush taskforce set up last year. It had refused a further 1,445 applications for documentation, he said – 796 made in the UK and 649 from outside the country.
“None of the refusal decisions have been made lightly, and all of them have had lengthy and detailed consideration. The decision to refuse in these cases has been checked and challenged extensively at operational level and been approved at ministerial level,” Javid wrote.
So far, 126 people whose applications had been refused had requested an independent review of their case. In 103 cases, the decision to refuse their application had been upheld, and three decisions were overturned. The remaining 20 cases are still under review.
The letter came the same day as Javid said he had apologised to 46 members of the Windrush generation who had been sanctioned, despite having a legal right to live in the UK.
He had also apologised to seven people with criminal convictions who were wrongly held in immigration detention centres after being released from prison, he said.
In an announcement promising to "right the wrongs of successive governments", Javid said: "I have personally apologised to those identified through this review and I will make sure they receive support and access to the compensation scheme."
According to Javid's letter to HASC, the Windrush taskforce found government departments had taken action against 55 Windrush victims, including revoking some of their driving licences, tax credits or welfare benefits, or telling their employers they may not have the right to work in the UK.
Of those 55, he wrote to the 46 identified as being the “most likely to have suffered detriment because their right to be in the UK was not recognised which led to sanctions being applied to them”, as they have remained in the UK permanently since arriving, Javid told the committee.
The remaining nine people had lost their entitlement to remain in the UK indefinitely because they appeared to have spent more than two years overseas since arriving in the UK, Javid said.
'Taking immediate responsibility'
Also published this week was the government’s response to Public Accounts Committee report concerning the Home Office’s handling of the Windrush scandal.
In its March report, PAC said the department was “shirking its responsibility to put right the wrongs suffered by individuals because of its mistakes”, which it said had led to Windrush victims losing jobs, benefits, homes and access to healthcare. It urged the Home Office to “take immediate responsibility for meeting the urgent needs of individuals”.
Responding via a Treasury minute, the government said it had already implemented the recommendation, citing the launch of the compensation scheme and the emergency support scheme – despite the latter only having supported 13 people to date.
In contrast, the government said it rejected PAC’s call to improve the way it secures housing for people who have been made homeless because of the so-called hostile environment policy, which has since been rebranded the compliant environment policy. It said the vulnerable persons team set up by the Home Office as part of its efforts to address the Windrush scandal was working with local authorities to secure emergency housing where needed, and had referred more than 300 people to the Department for Work and Pensions for help with benefits and housing.
Elsewhere in its response, the Home Office said it was holding a series of events to raise awareness of the Windrush scheme, after PAC said it was not doing enough to make sure people knew about the support available to them.
It also agreed to set out its plan for monitoring and evaluating its “compliant environment” measures, including how it was listening to feedback from people affected by the policy, by December 2020.
The plan would be based on engagement with organisations with a “close interest in the operation of these measures” and the recommendations of the Windrush lessons-learned review that is being carried out at the moment, it said.
“The department needs to complete the process of engagement before it can set out its plans and will set out its proposed new evaluation and monitoring regime in due course,” it said.