Radical reforms to the Windrush compensation scheme are to be announced by the home secretary, with the aim of making the payments more generous and swifter, in response to mounting criticism from the scandal’s victims at protracted delays and low offers.
Anyone who has already received an offer of payment under the scheme will have their cases reviewed, with a basic minimum award of £10,000 set to be offered to everyone who can show that the scandal has had an impact on their life, Priti Patel will announce on Monday.
This £10,000 award will be fast-tracked, and paid out as soon as claimants have demonstrated that they have suffered as a result of the Windrush scandal, which saw thousands of people who had lived legally in the UK for decades being miscategorised as immigration offenders. Some were detained and deported to countries they had left as children up to half a century earlier, but many more lost their homes and jobs or were denied access to pensions, benefits and the NHS.
The cap on the “impact on life” category of the award has been lifted from £10,000 to £100,000, ensuring overall payments made to claimants badly affected by the scandal become substantially more generous.
Patel will say: “The Windrush generation built their lives and their homes in Britain and I have always said that I will listen and act to ensure they get the compensation they deserve. I truly hope the changes I am announcing today will make a real difference to people’s lives and I urge everyone who thinks they may have been affected to come forward and apply.
“While nothing can undo the suffering they endured I hope that the additional money and support now available will go some way to rebuild trust so that we can move forward together.”
The announcement comes after several weeks of rising anger from those affected about the low offers of compensation that were being made after long delays. At least nine people have died in the period between making an application for compensation and receiving an offer. Last month Alexandra Ankrah, head of policy for the scheme, told the Guardian she had resigned from her job because she felt the programme was “not fit for purpose” and she was concerned by the attitudes of some Home Office colleagues towards claimants, which she felt displayed a “complete lack of humanity”.
Claimants said they were still struggling financially as they waited to be reimbursed by the scheme for lost earnings. Their concerns have been echoed by lawyers assisting people with their claims: Holly Stow, a senior case worker at North Kensington Law Centre, who is helping with almost 50 compensation cases, said many of the offers made had been “abysmal” and at least five people had been waiting for 18 months.
A Home Office source said the department had listened to the concerns, and that the changes to the system were a response to some of the challenges claimants have experienced with the process so far, representing a recognition that it was crucial the government needed to go “further and faster to help those who need it”.
The architect of the scheme, Martin Forde QC, who criticised the Home Office on Wednesday during a home affairs committee hearing into Windrush compensation payments, said he was “delighted at the development”. “I hope this will increase the rate of payment,” he said.
The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, sent a letter to Patel on Sunday, outlining his ongoing concerns with the scheme, pointing out that although 6,300 people have now been given citizenship via the Windrush scheme, only 226 people had so far received compensation totalling £2.1m, representing only 3.5% of those affected by the scandal. He asked whether legal aid would now be available to claimants to help them submit a claim, adding that the outline reforms did not go “anywhere near far enough to deal with the far wider problems in the scheme”.
Case study: ‘upset and exhausted’
It was not clear when the reform to the scheme was ordered. Samantha Cooper, whose partner Eddie Lindsay was sacked from his job with Tesco in 2012 because he was unable to get a British passport (despite the fact he had lived in the UK for over 50 years, having arrived from Jamaica as a child), received an offer of £7,000 compensation only on Friday. She described the offer as “insulting”.
Lindsay, the father of her two children, died before the scandal broke and the family remains in debt because of the Home Office’s mistake. The couple were unable to marry because he had no passport, so Cooper has been unable to access his pension or bereavement benefits. She said the offer did not reflect three years’ lost earnings, nor did it reflect the enormous suffering experienced by her family. Because he had no passport, Lindsay was unable to travel to visit his own mother before she died, and was shattered by trying to convince the Home Office a mistake had been made, she said.
“I’m so upset and exhausted by this. I don’t want to think that this process is going to drag on for another year,” she said.