Payouts to those caught up in the Windrush scandal will be "surprisingly low", campaigners warned after the home secretary announced they would finally be given compensation.
Sajid Javid said the scheme would “begin to turn the page” on the crisis by seeking to reimburse thousands of Commonwealth citizens for the losses they suffered after being wrongly classified as illegal immigrants.
He said there would be no cap on the overall amount of compensation awarded, but that the “baseline estimate” was £200m. Payouts would be awarded to anyone who has been in the UK since 1988 and was wrongly targeted by immigration enforcement, he added.
However, lawyers warned that the absence of an overall cap was a “false dawn”, as the scheme’s rules set out fixed sums on how much compensation can be awarded for different losses.
The guidelines state that victims will receive a fixed tariff of £500 if they were blocked from attending university, £500 if they were denied NHS healthcare and just £200 if they were unable to access banking services as a result of the scandal.
Jamie Beagent, a human rights lawyer at the Leigh Day law firm, is currently investigating potential legal action for more than 30 Windrush victims.
He said: “The fact that there’s no overall cap was a big positive, but then when you look at the detail behind it it’s a bit of a false dawn. A lot of people are not going to recover their losses because of the very strict way the loss categories are defined in the appendices to the rules. Some of the tariffs are put surprisingly low in comparison to what individuals might receive in a successful court case.
“Lots of the categories are surprisingly low, when you think about what people would have suffered as a result of, for example, not accessing that private education.”
Campaigners also said the “onerous evidence” victims were required to provide would make it difficult for some to make claims, particularly given that Mr Javid made no mention of legal aid.
Concerns were also raised that the guidelines state the Home Office may “reduce or decline” payouts for people who did not attempt to regularise their status after being targeted by immigration officials – which lawyers branded “grossly unfair”.
Writing exclusively for The Independent after he announced the scheme, Mr Javid said: “I recognise that it won’t reverse the damage that was caused, but I believe it will go some way to atone for the wrongs that people experienced. The scheme is now open to claims, so we can compensate those who struggled to prove their status and faced hardship as a result.”
Labour MP David Lammy welcomed the introduction of the scheme, but said: “The onerous evidence requirements for victims will make it very difficult for some to make claims, especially given there has been no mention of legal aid.
“Many victims’ claims go back years and they are in this situation in the first place because of the high thresholds for the evidence required to prove their citizenship ... The injustices in the scheme should be fixed immediately.”
Satbir Singh, chief executive of Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said Mr Javid’s announcement was “short on detail” and would “fail to reassure Windrush victims” that they would be adequately financially compensated for their losses.
“Today’s statement provides scant reassurance that mental trauma will be adequately recompensed,” he said. “The only way to truly ensure that something like Windrush never happens again, and to recognise the harm caused to Windrush victims, is for the government to scrap the hostile environment with immediate effect.”
Introducing the scheme in the Commons, Mr Javid said guidance was being provided to help people understand what compensation they might be entitled to and how to submit a claim.
He said the Home Office was launching an “extensive programme” of events with key stakeholders, community groups and faith organisations so that people across the country and overseas “know about the compensation that they can apply for”.
The announcement comes after the Home Office came under fire for failing to invite scores of Windrush victims to the compensation scheme launch event on Wednesday night, as well as prominent immigration lawyers and the press.
MPs warned last month that victims of the Windrush scandal were still homeless and being betrayed by the Home Office almost a year on, and accused ministers of a “shameful failure” to provide the help promised to those affected.
The Home Office was also criticised after admitting only two people had been helped by a hardship scheme set up for those affected, despite 48 people having requested support. Five had been declined.
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