The government is being urged to remove the Windrush compensation scheme from the Home Office after new data showed 214 applicants have been waiting more than 18 months and five people more than two years.
The scheme was set up in April 2019 to compensate thousands of Commonwealth nationals who had been wrongly classified as illegal immigrants in Britain, preventing them from working and accessing services and sometimes leading to detention and deportation.
In response to a written parliamentary question, Priti Patel said on Thursday that of the 1,417 cases being worked through the scheme as of 21 April, 281 people have been waiting between 12 and 18 months, 214 a year-and-a-half and five for more than two years.
The latest official data shows that 409 – one in five – Windrush victims who have applied for compensation have so far received payments. Less than £6.2m has been paid out of the £200m promised to victims. Claimants have so far received an average of £15,000.
It comes after the Home Office was criticised earlier this month for refusing to reveal how many Windrush people had died while waiting for compensation, despite having published this figure last July, when the home secretary Ms Patel admitted five applicants had passed away.
Data obtained by the BBC through a freedom of information request last November shows that at least nine people had died before receiving Windrush compensation as of 31 August.
Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP who submitted the parliamentary question, told The Independent: “That so many are facing extensive waits for compensation must be hugely frustrating for the Windrush victims.
“While the Home Office is right about the deep personal significance of these claims, and that some will involve considerable complexity, that is exactly why the scheme should also meet the costs of legal advice and representation for those making the claims. That would help deliver just compensation payments, and do it more quickly.”
Ms Patel said some individuals’ experiences were “more complex than others” and that it was therefore “right we take the time to ensure these are considered carefully”.
“Each person’s claim is deeply personal and requires careful and detailed consideration to understand their individual circumstances and experiences,” she added.
But Patrick Vernon OBE, who campaigns on behalf of the Windrush community, said the scheme had “failed” because of “institutional racism in the conduct, behaviour and procedures of the Home Office staff and the executive and political leadership”.
He added: “The government, like the recent debacle over the Tony Sewell report which failed to acknowledge and explore the impact of the scandal regarding structural racism, demonstrates no commitment to righting the wrongs around the compensation scheme.”
A petition set up by Mr Vernon calling on the government to improve the Windrush compensation scheme by removing it from the Home Office and injecting more funding into it has been signed nearly 60,000 times.
A spokesperson for Windrush Lives, an advocacy and support group for Windrush victims, said they were “stunned” by the revelation that over a third of the cases currently under consideration have been in the system for more than a year.
Accusing the Home Office of “keeping claimants mired in never-ending limbo”, they condemned a lack of funding or support for independent legal advice and called for the scheme to “urgently” be taken out of the department’s hands and run independently.
“At this pace of resolution, a significant proportion of applicants will not live to see their claims awarded. There is an increasing sense in the community that the Home Office is counting on this to avoid paying out,” they added.
“Victims and campaigners have consistently said that this process is too slow. The cohort of primary claimants is aging, and many individuals have health conditions that will shorten their lives. The Home Office knows this, but insists on a needlessly convoluted and obstructive application process.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are determined to right the wrongs of the Windrush generation and make sure they get the compensation they deserve for the injustices they faced.
“In December we reformed the Windrush compensation scheme to ensure payments were made faster and the awards offered were greater, and since April 2019 the Scheme has offered almost £18m, of which £6.1m has been paid.
“While we aim to process claims as quickly as possible, it is important that we carefully consider each person’s circumstances and experiences, treating everyone with the care and sensitivity they deserve to ensure that the maximum payment can be made to every single person."
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