Victims of the Windrush scandal could have their compensation capped under government proposals to ensure no individual receives a “disproportionately” high payment from the public purse.
A minimum size of claim could also be set in order to avoid “significant administrative expenditure” from processing low-value applications, the Home Office has said.
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, committed to providing financial redress for those caught up in the scandal by appointing a lawyer and son of Windrush parents to oversee the design of the compensation scheme.
Among those affected by the scandal are people forced out of work, in some cases for years, and unable to claim welfare support, as well as individuals wrongfully detained and in some cases deported. Lawyers have begun preparing group compensation claims on behalf of members of the Windrush generation.
Details of how the Windrush compensation scheme could work were revealed in a consultation document on Thursday. It said: “It is important to ensure that no individual receives a disproportionately high payment from the public purse.
“Equally, we need to balance the need to accept low value claims against the administrative process costs of doing so.
“We propose to place a cap or maximum amount which can be paid under the scheme in order to ensure that the payments made under the scheme can be distributed fairly across eligible claimants.
“Whilst we do not yet know the administrative costs of processing claims (as the final scheme has not yet been agreed), we also propose in principle to establish a minimum size of claim so as to avoid significant administrative expenditure being incurred to process low value claims.
“We believe that both these measures would help to avoid any excessively high payments and protect the taxpayer from processing very low value claims.”
What is the Windrush deportation crisis?
Who are the Windrush generation?
They are people who arrived in the UK after the second world war from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government. The first group arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in June 1948.
What happened to them?
An estimated 50,000 people faced the risk of deportation if they had never formalised their residency status and did not have the required documentation to prove it.
It stems from a policy, set out by Theresa May when she was home secretary, to make the UK ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants‘. It requires employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.
Why do they not have the correct paperwork and status?
Some children, often travelling on their parents’ passports, were never formally naturalised and many moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, so they assumed they were British. In some cases, they did not apply for passports. The Home Office did not keep a record of people entering the country and granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1 January 1973.
What is the government doing to resolve the problem?
A new Home Office team was set up to ensure Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally. But a month after one minister promised the cases would be resolved within two weeks, many remain destitute.
Those who experienced both financial and non-financial “losses” resulting from the Windrush failings could be eligible for compensation.
Fees from unsuccessful immigration applications would be within the scope of the scheme, while people who lost their jobs, had benefits payments refused, or were denied access to NHS care and housing could apply.
The scheme may also take into account any “impact on normal daily life”, after respondents in the evidence-gathering exercise described how the uncertainty they experienced caused or contributed to mental and physical health issues including stress, anxiety and depression.
The consultation also seeks views on whether alternative remedies should also be available, such as a “sincere apology” or efforts to help reinstate someone’s employment.
Under the Home Office’s proposals, eligibility for compensation would mirror criteria for its separate Windrush scheme, which was set up to assist people in establishing their lawful immigration status.
Proof of eligibility alone will not be sufficient to be compensated, the consultation says, adding: “We will need to establish the nature of any loss and consider the evidence in support of that.”
Gladstone Wilson: ‘The main pain was when I couldn’t go to my mum’s funeral … it’s like going to hell and back.’ Photograph: Andrew Fox for the Guardian
Among those affected were Gladstone Wilson, 62, who arrived in Britain in 1968, aged 12, to join his parents who were already here. His father was working as a headteacher in a primary school in the West Midlands.
Wilson worked for a long time as a security guard, latterly for a hospital in Wolverhampton. He lost his first passport that he arrived on, and was unable to prove he had a right to be here and as a result was unable to travel to his mother’s funeral in 2014.
He was stopped from working, his security guard licence was revoked, and he was sent a text by Capita, the Home Office’s immigration enforcement contractor, saying he needed to leave the country as soon as possible. Wilson is struggling to get work now, even though he has been granted a biometric card, because his security guard licence has expired and he needs to retrain.
“The main pain was when I couldn’t go to my mum’s funeral. That was devastating,” he said, adding the process has been “like going to hell and back”.
He was out of work because of this issue for more than three years, and he is still in financial difficulties as a result of the lost income. “I am trying to get back on an even keel. I’m taking tablets to keep myself calm with all the stress.”
He is wondering when the Home Office is going to apologise to him, when he will get compensation (given that his financial need is acute), and whether the Home Office can do anything to help him get his security guard licence reinstated. “I want them to understand all the suffering I’ve been through. Every night I grieve over this. I can’t forget. It’s terrible the way I’ve been treated.”
Writing for the Guardian as details of the consultation on the compensation scheme were announced, Javid said: “It is always important for the government to listen, and the consultation we have launched will give people the opportunity to shape the design of the compensation scheme we introduce. I want a scheme that is fair, comprehensive and accessible – and am eager to hear from as many people as possible about how it should work.”
He added: “Of course, I am not deaf to the calls for this to be brought in faster and sooner – but I want to get this right.”