Windrush compensation: scandal explained and who are Windrush generation - as only 5% of victims compensated

MPs have called for responsibility of Windrush compensation be taken away from the Home Office due to ‘repeating the same mistakes which led to the Windrush scandal in the first place’

Priti Patel’s Home Office should be stripped of responsibility for the Windrush compensation scheme, MPs said after a “litany of flaws” was identified in the way it operates.

The cross-party Commons Home Affairs Committee has said that it was “deeply troubling” that the Home Office’s handling of claims “has repeated the same mistakes which led to the Windrush scandal in the first place”.

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Who are the Windrush generation?

The Windrush scandal is a major political scandal, which broke in 2018, regarding the treatment of the Windrush generation by the Home Office.

The name comes from the Windrush generation, who in turn were named after the ship MV Empire Windrush, which brought workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and other islands, in an effort to fill post-war UK labour shortages.

The ‘Empire Windrush’ docked in Southampton (Photo: PA)

The ship transported 492 passengers, many of which were children. The passengers were granted the right to settle indefinitely in the UK without restrictions by the British Nationality Act 1948, which meant that those who had migrated did not need documents when they arrived.

While many had intended to leave the UK after a few years, the majority of the Windrush generation settled down permanently.

It was those born in Caribbean countries who settled in the UK between 1948 and 1971 who were named as the “Windrush generation”.

What is the Windrush scandal?

The Windrush scandal, which broke in April 2018, refers to the political scandal regarding UK citizens who were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation and, in over 80 cases, wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office.

The “hostile environment” immigration policy, launched by the Conservative government in 2012, was designed to make it as difficult as possible for immigrants settled in the UK without leave to remain in the country. The hope was that this would get them to leave voluntarily.

Despite having lived and worked in the UK for decades, and the fact that Commonwealth citizens had been given indefinite leave to remain by the 1971 Immigration Act, many of these people were told that they were in the country illegally due to a lack of official paperwork.

Jamaican men reading a newspaper whilst on board the ‘Empire Windrush’ bound for Tilbury docks in Essex (Photo: Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

This was because the Home Office had not kept a record of those granted leave to remain, and also issued no paperwork, making it extremely difficult for members of the Windrush generation to prove their legal status.

What this meant is that hundreds who had lived in the UK for their entire lives, were suddenly informed that they needed evidence in order to continue working, get access to NHS treatment - or even remain in the UK altogether.

In 2020, Wendy Williams, Senior Responsible Officer for HMICFRS’s Criminal Justice and Joint Inspection portfolio, published her independent review of the Windrush scandal, as instructed by the Home Secretary in 2018.

In her Windrush Lessons Learned Review, Williams said: “What happened to those affected by the Windrush scandal was foreseeable and avoidable.”

The report also highlighted “serious concerns that these failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”.

What is the Windrush Compensation Scheme - and how to apply?

The Windrush Compensation Scheme was launched in 2018 in a bid to “right the wrongs” of the Windrush scandal that saw thousands of British residents denied things like access to healthcare, housing and work.

The National Audit Office states: “The scheme aimed to compensate members of the Windrush generation and their families for the losses and impacts they have suffered due to not being able to demonstrate their lawful immigration status.”

You can apply if:

  • You came to the UK from a Commonwealth country before 1973
  • Your parents or grandparents came to the UK from a Commonwealth country before 1973
  • You came to the UK from any country before 31 December 1988 and are now settled here

You can also apply if you are:

  • The close family member of someone eligible to claim and you have had significant losses yourself
  • Representing the estate of someone who would have been eligible

You might be able to get compensation for losses relating to things like employment, immigration fees, housing, health, education and more.

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest in support of the Windrush generation in Windrush Square, Brixton on April 20, 2018 (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Eligible applicants are encouraged to apply to the scheme via email. You can apply by post, but this will take longer due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are different forms and guidance for each kind of claim, which you can find on the Government website. 

After applying you will be contacted to confirm that your claim has been received. You’ll then get a letter offering you compensation if you have been successful - you must write back to accept this offer.

Once you’ve accepted the offer, the money will be paid into your bank account. If you are unhappy with the offer given, you can ask for a review. Should the results of the review also be unsatisfactory, you can ask for an independent adjudicator to look at it.

What did the cross-party Commons Home Affairs Committee say?

The compensation scheme should be transferred to an independent organisation, in order to increase trust and encourage more applications, the cross-party Commons Home Affairs Committee has said.

The MPs said the design of the scheme contained the same “bureaucratic insensitivities” that led to the Windrush scandal in the first place, which was a “damning indictment of the Home Office”.

The scheme was set up to compensate members of the Windrush generation who were wrongly denied their lawful immigration status as a result of Home Office policies.

But the MPs found that, as of the end of September, only 20.1% of the initially estimated 15,000 eligible claimants had applied, just 5.8% had received any payment and 23 individuals had died without receiving compensation.

MPs have called for Priti Patel’s Home Office to be stripped of responsibility for the Windrush compensation scheme (Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

The committee said: “The treatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments and the Home Office was truly shameful.

“No amount of compensation could ever repay the fear, the humiliation and the hurt that was caused both to individuals and to communities affected.”

It was “deeply troubling” that the Home Office’s handling of claims “has repeated the same mistakes which led to the Windrush scandal in the first place”.

Claimants face a “daunting application process”, “unreasonable requests for evidence” and were “left in limbo in the midst of inordinate delays”, the committee’s report said.

“Too often, injustice has been compounded rather than compensated,” the MPs said. “This is unacceptable and must not continue.”

The MPs welcomed changes introduced in December 2020 to improve the system but said the reforms had not gone far enough.

What did chairwoman Yvette Cooper say?

The committee’s Labour chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: “It has been four years since the Windrush scandal emerged and it is truly shocking how few people have received any compensation for the hardship they endured at the hands of the Home Office.

“It is particularly distressing that 23 individuals have died without receiving any compensation.

Chairwoman Yvette Cooper said it was ‘truly shocking’ how few people have received the compensation they are due (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“Urgent action is needed to get compensation to those who have been so badly wronged.”

She said it was ”staggering, given the failures of the Windrush scandal, that the Home Office has allowed some of the same problems to affect the Windrush Compensation Scheme too”.

What did the Home Office say?

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary and the department remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that members of the Windrush generation receive every penny of compensation that they are entitled to.

“The Home Secretary overhauled the scheme in December to ensure more money is paid more quickly – since then the amount of compensation paid has risen from less than £3 million to over £31.6 million, with a further £5.6 million having been offered. There is no cap on the amount of compensation we will pay out.

The Home Office has said that it is committed to aiding those affected by the Windrush scandal (Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

“We are pleased this report welcomes the changes made to the scheme in December and we continue to make improvements, such as simplifying the application process, hiring more caseworkers and removing the end date.

“We firmly believe that moving the operation of the scheme out of the Home Office would risk significantly delaying vital payments to those affected.”

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