MP Helen Hayes has slammed the Government during a House of Commons debate on the second reading of the Windrush compensation scheme expenditure bill.
The Dulwich and West Norwood Labour MP said that long before the scandal hit the headlines two years ago, her casework team had been flagging up the fact that increasing numbers of older constituents, originally from countries in the Commonwealth, were being asked to provide an unrealistic level of proof of their right to be in the UK, despite having been here for many decades, made this country home and contributed to the UK multiple different ways, and despite, in many cases, coming to the UK as British citizens.
“It transpired what we were seeing were not isolated cases but the consequences of a systematic problem at the Home Office.
“And the results have been far reaching:
- thousands of people denied their right to live in the country that is their home;
- severe hardship caused by the removal of the right to benefits or pensions, or of the right to work;
- devastating health consequences as a result of both the stress caused by the scandal and the removal of the right to NHS treatment; and
- heartbreak for families separated and denied years that they would otherwise have spent together.
“It is right that the Government compensate those whom they have treated so appallingly.
“But the success of the compensation scheme must be judged by what it delivers for those it is intended to help.
“The experience of those constituents of mine who are victims of the Windrush scandal is that this scheme is not currently fit for purpose and, worse than that, their ongoing interactions with the Home Office and other Government Departments continue to compound their injustice….
“The Home Office continues to perpetuate the hostile environment and, while that remains the case, it cannot be right that the same Department is responsible for administering a scheme to compensate people for its own wrongdoing.
“The Government should accept that it would help to build confidence in the scheme if it were administered by a different Department.(Helen Hayes speech appears in full below – Ed.)
*Prior to her comments in the Windrush debate Helen Hayes had asked the following Parliamentary question:
what estimate her Department has made of (a) the number of outstanding applications to the Windrush Compensation Scheme and (b) the average waiting time for (i) a decision on an application to that scheme and (ii) payment to the claimant.
Outstanding applications are taken to mean those which have been submitted but which have not yet had a final decision.
We will publish information on the total number of claims, claims paid and the overall amount paid out by the scheme shortly, as noted in the Home Secretary’s report to the Home Affairs Select Committee https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/update-to-the-hasc-on-windrush-22-october-2019. We do not intend to publish information on the time taken between a claim being submitted and a decision or a payment being made on that claim – all claims are different and the time taken will depend on many factors, including its complexity. We also often resolve part of a claim ahead of the rest of it if that part can be resolved more quickly, thereby speeding up the provision of compensation. Hansard source(Citation: HC Deb, 7 February 2020, cW)
HELEN HAYES SPEECH ON WINDRUSH IN FULL
My constituency has a strong, direct and proud connection with the Windrush generation. In 1948, about 200 passengers on the Empire Windrush found temporary accommodation in the Clapham deep shelter and sought work at the labour exchange in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. From there, many settled in the area, making Brixton their home, enriching community life with food, music and faith, and working hard to rebuild London after the war, including in our NHS and London Transport. We are proud of the Windrush generation and their descendants, who are an integral and highly valued part of our south London community.
Consequently, my constituency has been hit especially hard by the Windrush scandal. Long before the scandal hit the headlines two years ago, my casework team had been flagging up the fact that increasing numbers of older constituents, originally from countries in the Commonwealth, were being asked to provide an unrealistic level of proof of their right to be in the UK, despite having been here for many decades, made this country home and contributed to the UK multiple different ways, and despite, in many cases, coming to the UK as British citizens.
In one case, a constituent was asked to provide a record of his schooling, but he had attended a school run by the Inner London Education Authority, which was abolished in 1990, and both the school and its records had been destroyed many years ago. As a result of his inability to provide this impossible piece of evidence, his rights to be in the UK, to work, claim a pension and to access housing and medical treatment were all at risk.
It then transpired that what we were seeing were not isolated cases but the consequences of a systematic problem at the Home Office, and the results have been far reaching—thousands of people denied their right to live in the country that is their home; severe hardship caused by the removal of the right to benefits or pensions, or of the right to work; devastating health consequences as a result of both the stress caused by the scandal and the removal of the right to NHS treatment; and heartbreak for families separated and denied years that they would otherwise have spent together.
It is right that the Government compensate those whom they have treated so appallingly. However, the success of the compensation scheme must be judged by what it delivers for those it is intended to help. The experience of those constituents of mine who are victims of the Windrush scandal is that this scheme is not currently fit for purpose and, worse than that, their ongoing interactions with the Home Office and other Government Departments continue to compound their injustice.
My constituent Gretel Gocan was the first Windrush citizen to be able to return to the UK following the exposure of the Windrush scandal. Gretel arrived back in the UK on 3 May 2018—almost two years ago. Yet despite my support, extensive representations to the Government and applications both to the hardship fund and to the compensation scheme, she has yet to receive a penny in compensation from the British Government.
Gretel is being housed and supported by her daughter, receiving only her basic pension. She is a frail and elderly woman. She should be entitled to attendance allowance, but the Department for Work and Pensions rejected her application because she had not been resident in the UK during the assessment period.
The only reason she had not been resident in the UK during that time was that the British Government had illegally prevented her from returning home.
When I met a DWP Minister to discuss the case, he agreed that that was not right and that Gretel should be able to access attendance allowance. She was advised to apply to the hardship fund, since apparently it was not possible to change the rules. After extensive correspondence, an application was made to the hardship fund in June 2019, but no funding has so far been received.
My constituent Chiplyn Burton, who was illegally deported to Jamaica in 2015, returned to the UK in December 2019. Chiplyn is homeless and spent many weeks sofa surfing with relatives. Arriving during the winter and with no income, Chiplyn was in urgent need of emergency support and applied to the hardship fund for £500 to cover a bus pass, warm clothing and food. In response to this application—for £500—she was asked to provide details of what warm clothes she needed, a breakdown of food costs and bank statements. Chiplyn found that interaction utterly demeaning, and the tone and content of correspondence from Home Office officials compounded her injustice, as well as delaying the funding she desperately needed. It was, quite frankly, a disgrace.
Turning to the compensation scheme itself, I have sat with constituents to help them complete the long and complex form. Without prompting, it is very easy not to record key details. As the form asks for proof such as receipts, it is easy to overlook whole areas for which compensation should be payable because no proof is available. For example, one constituent almost omitted to mention that, because her mother had been deported, she had lost the privately rented home she was living in and all of her possessions, as it was impossible to provide any record of their monetary value.
I pay tribute to the Black Cultural Archives in my constituency. When the Windrush scandal broke, the BCA opened its doors to Windrush citizens. It worked with volunteer lawyers to offer free advice clinics to help those affected to gather together their papers to regularise their status. The BCA recently restarted those advice surgeries to support people with applications to the compensation scheme. The surgeries have been well attended, but the BCA reports that just as many people are coming to speak about ongoing problems with the benefits system as are coming to speak about the compensation scheme. The number and complexity of the issues being raised is far greater than can be sustained by lawyers working pro bono.
People are coming to the BCA because it is a trusted organisation with a grassroots history. I have been calling since 2018 for the Government to provide funding to trusted local community organisations to provide advice and support to Windrush citizens who are seeking to access compensation, but they have refused to do so.
Instead, the Government commissioned Citizens Advice to provide advice on the compensation scheme, and there is evidence that it just is not working, We have no citizens advice bureaux in my constituency, and many of my constituents are unwilling or unable to use the telephone advice service. Lawyers who have been doing pro bono work for Windrush citizens are regularly contacted by CAB advisers, who are being paid by the Government, asking for help because they do not have sufficient expertise to advise them.
The Government totally misunderstand exactly how fundamental the breach of trust in the Home Office has been. People will approach trusted organisations like the BCA, but they will not directly approach the Home Office. That is why funding for such grassroots help and support is vital, and I call on the Government to provide that funding because it is key to the accessibility of the Windrush compensation scheme.
The Home Office continues to perpetuate the hostile environment and, while that remains the case, it cannot be right that the same Department is responsible for administering a scheme to compensate people for its own wrongdoing. The Government should accept that it would help to build confidence in the scheme if it were administered by a different Department.
Windrush citizens continue to experience huge problems accessing benefits to which they are entitled. The type of problem experienced by my constituent Gretel Gocan in accessing attendance allowance remains, and the tone of correspondence from the DWP is entirely lacking in empathy: it is unwilling to acknowledge the culpability of the Home Office in the situations with which it is presented. Will the Government therefore consider emergency legislation to ensure that no one is prevented from accessing benefits as a consequence of being a Windrush victim?
Finally, it has been estimated that over half a million people have been given wrong official advice on naturalisation and gaining British citizenship since the passage of the Immigration Act 1971. Will the Government apologise to those individuals and pay back, with interest, the costs they incurred in legal and immigration fees? The Government’s failure of the Windrush generation is profound and devastating. The first step in addressing the harm that has been done and in rebuilding the trust that has been breached is to listen to what those who are affected are saying about how the scheme is currently failing, and to act on their advice. I urge the Government to do so.
I congratulate the shadow Minister, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, (Lab Streatham) on her first speech at the Dispatch Box. It was an assured performance with well-thought through points. It is safe to say that we have had an important and wide-ranging debate, touching on a range of issues relating to the Bill. Although I will not be able to respond to every single point, it is perhaps worth my responding to a few of them.
I noticed that both the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Immigration Minister referred to the fact that we have not put this scheme on a statutory basis. Let me be clear about this: it is to allow a degree of flexibility around the rules where it is necessary. For example, in October, following feedback from stakeholders and claimants, we allowed a broader range of immigration fees to be refunded. Last week, following feedback from stakeholders, from the independent adviser and, to be fair, from members of the shadow team as well, we extended the period by two years, and altered the mitigations. Again, we are keen to engage with stakeholders and the independent adviser about future changes that may need to be made. That is we why we are not keen to put this on a statutory basis and put it all into a piece of primary legislation.
There were comments about the 8,000 taskforce applications, and the fact that, so far, only 1,100 are being followed up with a compensation claim. It does not automatically follow that someone who has secured documentation through the taskforce will then be instantly entitled to compensation. However, we clearly want to reach out, as we want to encourage people to make contact with the compensation team if they believe that there is a claim to be made.
We had a running theme throughout the debate of people who do not necessarily want to attend an event run by the Home Office, understandably in some cases, or to make direct contact with the Home Office. Some favoured approaching a trusted Member of Parliament in their local community. We are very clear that none of the information provided to the Windrush teams will be used for the purposes of immigration enforcement. We are quite happy to arrange for Windrush taskforce and Windrush compensation teams to engage directly with Members of Parliament, if they so wish, and with their constituents, and we are very clear that none of that information will be used for immigration enforcement. (Citation: HC Deb, 10 February 2020, c667)
The Minister is right to say that many of the Windrush citizens are fearful of approaching the Home Office because of what it might mean for their immigration status now, but it is more than that. It is also about the total lack of trust in the Home Office and the lack of confidence that the very Department that has done them so much wrong has the capacity to deliver justice for them. (Citation: HC Deb, 10 February 2020, c668)
That is why we are working with the stakeholder group and why we have an independent reviewer and a separate team. I have extended an invitation to my shadows, and I am happy to extend it to other Members of Parliament who have strong constituency interests, to visit the compensation team based in Leeds, to meet and talk with staff and to understand the work they do. We have taken note of the individual cases raised in the Chamber today. I do not think it would be right to respond in detail now from the Dispatch Box, but we will ensure that the details are passed on for further work.
I am keen to respond to an offer made by the shadow team and to work where possible with Members of Parliament to run engagement and outreach events in their constituency. We have already made an arrangement with Thangam Debbonaire, and we will make it clear that it is not a Home Office event, but one run by a Member of Parliament with the team attending. As I said, none of the information will be used for purposes unconnected with the Windrush taskforce and the Windrush compensation scheme, and I hope we can give people confidence in what the sessions will be about.
In an interesting speech, the SNP spokesman, Stuart C. McDonald, raised several considered points. We have already announced some changes to the mitigation policy, based on the advice from the independent adviser and feedback from stakeholders. The hon. Gentleman made a fair point about what happens when someone misses the deadline by a day in 2023 due to ill health, or perhaps a probate issue. We will continue to review the process, take advice and engage with stakeholders and the independent adviser. There is a balance to be struck between having a date far enough in the future to enable people to feel confident that they have time to make their claim, but soon enough to encourage people to put in their claim. We felt that the two-year extension also gives certainty on procurement for those who provide independent advice to claimants.
That brings me to another point made by hon. Members on how independent advice will be provided. To be clear, the initial procurement went to Citizens Advice and we have extended that until a new service is procured. We thought it right to do that, so that independent advice continued to be available to claimants. The procurement is an open process and we look forward to seeing bids involving groups that can get out and ensure that people get the compensation they deserve.
Regarding the scope of the scheme, it is open to anyone from a Commonwealth country who arrived and settled in the UK before 1973, anyone of any nationality who arrived and settled in the UK before the end of 1988, children, grandchildren and other close family members of such a person who may have been affected, and the estates of those who are now deceased but who would have been eligible to claim compensation. References commonly made to “the Windrush generation” are a shorthand way to ensure that the public are aware of what we mean, but we are not talking purely about people from the Caribbean; those from the wider Commonwealth are also affected.
In the detailed design of the scheme, we are committed to ensuring that everyone who is due compensation can receive it. We worked with the independent adviser, Martin Forde, to ensure that the evidential threshold is as low as possible, and the team will work with claimants to provide as much information as possible to support their claim, but when spending public money it is important to have a minimum amount of information and evidence required. The changes introduced last week show that we will respond to comments and experience, as claims progress.
The taskforce has a dedicated vulnerable persons team to provide help and advice where safeguarding and vulnerability issues are identified. I am advised that up to the end of September 2019, the team had provided support to nearly 1,000 individuals. We have a fast-track service, operated with the Department for Work and Pensions, to confirm status and residence and to arrange access to benefits. Again, we will pick up the cases mentioned in the debate today and make sure a response is given.(Citation: HC Deb, 10 February 2020, c668) (All sources: TheyWorkForYou)