Windrush victims are yet to receive compensation despite the Home Office announcing last month that all eligible claimants would be granted a “fast-tracked” payment.
On 14 December, in what was described as an “overhaul” of the Windrush compensation scheme, Priti Patel said £10,000 would be paid out to any claimant as soon as they could demonstrate they had suffered as a result of the scandal.
The maximum payment a claimant can receive was also increased from £10,000 to £100,000, with options for higher awards in exceptional cases, the home secretary said, describing the change as “an important step in rebuilding trust and moving forward together”.
However, many claimants to the scheme are yet to receive any payment and say Home Office caseworkers have not been able to provide them with any information about when they will receive it, prompting concerns that the changes have not been properly devised, prepared for or implemented.
A letter to Ms Patel on 1 January, signed by 31 Windrush victims and claimants to the scheme – including high-profile individuals such as Anthony Bryan and Glenda Caesar – states: “We are left with the hollow sense that the ‘overhaul’ you announced on 14 December – in the lead-up to Christmas – was no more than a publicity stunt.
“This is the same dynamic we have faced from the beginning: we are told that changes are coming, and we will hear soon; we wait for open-ended periods, suffering all the while, some among us dying while waiting; and we are ultimately presented with something far deficient to what was promised, and expected to be thankful for it.”
Nine people whose lives were hit by the Windrush scandal have died before receiving any compensation for the losses and hardship they suffered.
They claim that the compensation scheme subjects them again to ‘some of the same tools of the hostile environment’
The Home Office says advance payments and revised compensation offers have started to be made to claimants, with the first preliminary payment made within one week of the changes being announced, and total offers having increased to nearly £200,000 in some cases.
But the signatories say they have “no confidence” in the Home Office to deliver the justice they are owed, and call for the compensation scheme to be immediately stripped from the department and administered by an independent external body “if it is to have any hope of success”.
They claim that the compensation scheme subjects them again to “some of the same tools of the hostile environment”, including a refusal to accept evidence and accounts of lived experience and “gaslighting” claimants by claiming in the media to have made meaningful changes.
One of the signatories, London resident Mohamed Ali Hirsy, 78, who is still waiting for compensation after applying 14 months ago, accused the Home Office of using the “same old excuses”.
The Kenyan national, who has lived in the UK since 1965, had been working as a housing officer for Tower Hamlets Council for 26 years when he was let go around 15 years ago because he couldn’t supply proof of his immigration status.
Since then, he has had to survive on £400 a month from his pension and has been unable to travel back to Kenya to see family. He was granted a British passport after the Windrush scandal broke in April 2018, but more than a year after submitting his compensation claim, he is still waiting.
His local MP, Stephen Timms, wrote to the Home Office requesting an update on his claim and received a response last month in which the department apologised for the delay, but provided no indication as to when he would receive a response or any interim payment.
Mr Ali Hirsy told The Independent: “I’ve phoned [the Windrush helpline] between 10 to 15 times and it’s always the same thing: we are doing our best; we can’t tell you anything; we are busy; you have to wait. “With this new coronavirus variant, I am totally locked up at home. I am very lonely; it’s depressing. I would like to book a flight to Kenya in February to move back there, and I want to know whether I will get an interim payment by that date. But nobody can give me an answer.”
Glenda Caesar, 59, who has lived in the UK since she was three months old, struggled for years after losing her job and being denied benefits because she couldn’t prove her immigration status. She received an offer of compensation from the Home Office in 2019 but appealed it, describing the £22,264 offer as insultingly low.
We’ve been waiting long enough – almost three years now. We shouldn’t have had to fight to get this changed
The Dominican Republic national, whose case is still being reassessed, said she was yet to receive the £10,000 advance payment, and accused the Home Office of paying “lip service” in its administration of the compensation scheme.
“I thought people like me who they had made offers to already would be the first they would contact about the fast-track payment, at least giving us the £10,000 interim, and then following up with the rest afterwards,” she said.
“I called the helpline to see if they knew anything or could explain a bit more, but they just said you’ve got to wait until March. They didn’t have any further information.”
Ms Caesar added: “They’ve come along and raised people’s anxiety again, calling it ‘fast-track’ and making us think it would come tomorrow or in two days’ time. We’ve been waiting long enough – almost three years now. We shouldn’t have had to fight to get this changed.”
A third signatory, Anthony Williams, who served in the British Army for 13 years but later lost his job with a cleaning company because he couldn’t prove his status, is in the process of appealing a compensation offer for the second time, and is yet to receive an advance payment.
The Jamaican national, who came to the UK aged seven, said: “They’ve put the cart before the horse. Priti Patel must have brought in the changes quickly, and they don’t really know what they’re doing with the new changes.
“I’m really annoyed. It took them 15 months to get my first offer to me, and I’m still sat here waiting. You go to bed thinking about it, and wake up thinking of it. It’s just taken over my life.”
Jacqueline Mckenzie, a lawyer representing and supporting more than 200 Windrush victims with their compensation claims, said she wasn’t aware of anyone who had received communication from the Home Office about the fast-track payment, and accused ministers of failing to adequately plan for the changes.
“It is disturbing that people affected by the Windrush injustices are still having to air concerns in 2021. It seems to me that the politicians responded hastily to deflect criticism but without proper planning and processes; the team administering the scheme appear to have been caught unaware and nothing has changed,” she said.
“I welcome some of the changes, but the Home Office has to address the ongoing shortcomings and they need to do that now in consultation with lawyers, actuaries and other experts. Above all else, they need to start listening to those whose lives have been disrupted as a result of their actions.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This characterisation of the Windrush Compensation Scheme is completely inaccurate.
“This scheme has been overhauled to provide faster compensation for the victims of Windrush. This means higher payments being made to victims quickly with a streamlined approach to enable more victims to have the confidence to come forward with their claim.
“This overhaul followed consultation with victims and stakeholders, including Bishop Webley, co-chair of the Windrush working group. These changes have been made following extensive advice and support from members of the group who represent those affected by the Windrush scandal. The Home Secretary has consistently prioritised listening to all feedback to make the scheme more effective in getting compensation to the victims of this scandal.”