Windrush compensation scheme consultation
Response of the Greater Manchester Law Centre
159 Princess Rd, Manchester M14 4RE
We are a recently opened Law Centre who specialise in Welfare Benefits. We set out below one of the ‘Windrush’ affected benefits cases we have dealt with.
We are also based in the heart of Moss Side in Manchester which is the area where the ‘Windrush’ generation who came to Manchester first settled. We have, therefore, had a large number of queries once the ‘Windrush’ scandal became public and have also attended local meetings to discuss the issue and comment in general on the information we obtained during this process.
We additionally set out the general causes of concern raised by this set of people.
We ask, for reasons set out below that, in addition to compensation based on individual circumstances, a minimum amount is given to everyone affected by the scandal with an additional set amount given to anyone who travelled back to the UK after a visit abroad.
We also propose that clear and simple details of the compensation scheme, and ways of applying for it, are publicised widely, including directly with all advice agencies working in the communities affected.
A is a Sierra Leone national who was born on the 25thOctober 1954 and came into the UK on the 14th August 1970 when he was 15 years old. He arrived to join his parents and has the passport he arrived on which is endorsed with an entry certificate ‘to join parents’ and no restrictions on entry.
He has been in the UK since and has recently received the ILR biometric via the ‘Windrush’ process.
He was in receipt of benefits but had this stopped in 2016 because he was deemed to have no status in the UK. He also then received a decision from the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) seeking to recover all the benefits paid to him since 2009 (adding up to a total of over £30000). This was on the 16thApril 2016.
These decisions were made by the DWP on that basis that they had contacted the Home Office to find out whether A was entitled to benefits and had been told, on the 14thMarch 2016, that A ‘had no leave to remain in the UK’. A had had since his arrival no contact with the Home Office so they would have no records of his existence on their system. They would, in particular, have no proof of his entry to the UK as his landing card would have been in of the ones destroyed by the Home Office in 2010. The Home Office also did not contact A at any stage to find out about his history so it is clear that they automatically classified him as having no status because he was not on their system.
This wrong classification has directly led to A having no income (or accommodation) since the 16thApril 2016 and having to live with the stress of owing over £30000 in benefits plus a possible criminal charge for defrauding the benefits system. He has been living with friends.
We appealed against the decisions that he owed this money and the DWP confirmed at an initial hearing that their decision was solely based on the Home Office response that he had no status.
The DWP have just recently confirmed that they are withdrawing their decision given that he has received an ILR card now under the ‘Windrush’ scheme.
A is entitled to
- Special damages – the benefits he has been entitled to since April 2016
- General Compensatory Damages = compensation for mental anguish
- Punitive Damages – because of the reprehensiblebehaviour of the Home Office in automatically saying that he had no leave to remain in the UK just because he was not on their system
The Home SSHD should also be asked check all the cases where the DWP have, similarly, been wrongly told that a person has no leave.
We have also had a number of phone calls in the last few weeks and have attended local meetings where people affected by this issue have spoken.
The most common issue that has been raised is travelling abroad. Everyone has either experienced problems return back to the UK from a visit abroad or knows someone who has. A lot of people had therefore made a conscious decision not to travel.
One person specifically said that he did not go to his father’s funeral because he was advised by a local travel agent not to go as the travel agent was aware of other people who had been refused entry on return. He missed his father’s funeral.
Everyone who travelled also reported being interrogated thoroughly on their arrival back in the UK and all of them felt that they were being singled out because of their nationality.
One person graphically explained how he was asked by an Immigration Officer at the airport, on his return from a short visit, where he lived. He pointed in the general direction of Moss Side and said ‘over there’. The Immigration Officer said that he meant ‘where your home is’. The arrival pointed again in the direction of Moss Side and said ‘over there’. This conversation was repeated and resulted in the arrival storming through the arrivals section because he believed that he was being racially discriminated against. He left his passport behind in the hands of the Immigration officer. A few minutes later his partner, who was travelling with him, came through with his passport saying it had been stamped. He only realised a few months later that it had been stamped with only a ‘visitors’ status and had to go back to Manchester Airport to have this corrected.
He has never travelled since.
Other stories we have heard have been:
- One person who has avoided going to doctor’s even when she is sick because she feared being charged for healthcare.
- One person who, although well past retirement age, is taking low paid cleaning jobs rather than claim benefits (that she is entitled to) as she has been told that the benefits office will tell the home office who will deport then her.
- One person has been living with friends as he had been told neither a landlord nor the council would rent to him as he had no current status documents.
All of these people are elderly and should have been looking forward to quiet and enjoyable retirement rather than be worried about their status in the UK.
It is clear to us that the ‘hostile environment’ polices initiated by the government have created a culture of fear within black communities and have led to them depriving themselves of services and support that they should have been totally entitled to. It is also clear to us that the policy has affected the vast majority of the commonwealth citizens who have made the UK their lives.
Any compensation scheme has to acknowledge the distress suffered by this community as a result of these policies and we believe that all of these people are entitled to some form of compensation.
We understand that it might be difficult to assess the value of compensation in some of these cases, for example the cases of people who did not travel because they were afraid to do so. We believe that the best way to approach this is for the government to set a minimum level of General Compensatory Damages for every single person affected in any way by the ‘windrush’ scandal’
As stated above, everyone who travelled commented that they were interrogated on their arrival in the UK. They all believed, logically, that this was because of their race. We ask the government to set an additional level of General Compensatory Damages for anyone who has travelled abroad.
In addition the government should also agree to further General Compensatory Damages depending on individual additional factors.
It is also clear that the government should also agree to Special damages for those who have suffered a loss because of the policy, e.g the whole amount of benefits that a person left unclaimed because of a legitimate fear of contact with an official agency.