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Not only was the Windrush compensation scheme complex and difficult for claimants but the Home Office did not provide the necessary resources to manage it.
The Windrush scandal has been compounded by failures in the plan set up to provide redress to its victims.
The Public Accounts Committee has looked into how the scheme is working three years after government acknowledged its failures and two years after it unveiled its solution. Our report highlights the fundamental problems caused by both the original design and subsequent implementation of the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
Those early problems are now coming home to roost. Not only was the scheme complex and difficult for claimants but the Home Office did not provide the necessary resources to manage it – even though its original estimate of the number of claimants was far higher than those who have so far applied.
There remains uncertainty over the numbers. The Home Office thought that around 15,000 people might be eligible; it revised down to 11,500 in October 2019. It has only received about a fifth of the revised estimate and is now looking to revise it again.
As of June, only 412 claims out of the 2,367 submitted have received their final payment. The Department has set itself an internal target to conclude 90 per cent of claims submitted before the end of 2020 by the end of August 2021. There also remains the question of how many more claims will be made. The Home Secretary announced in April that there will no longer be a deadline for applications.
Some have died without ever seeing justice or receiving the compensation they deserve
Many of the difficulties suffered by the Windrush generation were due to insufficient documentation and yet the Department is still focused on paper documents to prove status. With evidence required over a lifetime in the UK this is just an impossible task for many.
The Home Office now accepts that it could have done things differently at the beginning.
It estimated that each case would take its caseworkers, on average, about 30 hours to process. In practice it has taken five times as long.
When it launched the scheme, the Department had only six caseworkers to process claims, compared to the 125 it considered it would need. It has never caught up and appears to still be significantly understaffed. There have also been errors and inconsistencies in the way claims have been processed, which have added to the burden for those affected.
Our report highlighted some specific challenges which the Department still needs to address. There are logistical barriers to claims from the estates of those who have died before being compensated. And those who lost council tenancies have no realistic prospect of restitution through the normal housing allocation route. The Home Office needs to act more decisively to find a solution for the small number of people affected.
As well as flaws in the design of the scheme, the government is only belatedly acknowledging that it has not done enough to reach the Commonwealth citizens from countries other than Caribbean, despite the Public Accounts Committee calling for this in February 2019.
The impact of these bureaucratic failings cannot be understated. Lifetimes in this country were discounted, people’s homes, families, and livelihoods were interrupted and uprooted – some were forced from the country. Some were approaching the end of their lifetimes as this tragedy befell them. Some have died without ever seeing justice or receiving the compensation they deserve.
At our hearing, the Permanent Secretary acknowledged some of the Home Office’s mistakes. He was clear that money was no object and that there was no upper limit on compensation for victims and their families. But the first real proof that the scheme is getting on track will be if the August deadline is met. This will only be the beginning, but for those who have waited so long it would be a crumb of comfort in the ongoing sorry saga of Windrush.
Meg Hillier is the Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch and chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
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