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Leigh Day’s Head of Immigration and Asylum accuses Home Office of institutional racism over “slow and inefficient” Windrush compensation scheme

Leigh Day partner and the firm’s Head of Immigration and Asylum, Jacqueline McKenzie, has accused the Home Office of institutional racism after delays to compensation payments to people affected by the Windrush scandal.

Posted on 21 June 2023

As reported by the Press Association, Jacqueline described the system as slow and inefficient, saying no other group of people in society would be treated “this callously”. According to the news agency’s latest figures, hundreds of cases have been stuck in the compensation system for at least a year. Her criticism of the compensation scheme comes in the week the UK marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush in Britain on 22 June 1948.

Jacqueline, who has spoken to hundreds of people needing help with their claims, said some Leigh Day clients initially rejected for compensation, were then offered tens of thousands of pounds after their cases were reviewed. It can take 12 months just to get an initial decision. She says this is evidence of “poor case-working”. One client put an application in and was told he was not entitled to any compensation, but when it was reviewed, he was told he is entitled to £289,000, while another saw a mother and two daughters go from zero to being told they are entitled to between £70,000 and £100,000.

The compensation scheme was set up after the Windrush scandal in 2018, when people with the right to live in the UK lost access to work and were wrongfully detained or deported. The Press Association has carried out its own analysis which it says found that of the 2,235 claims in progress as of April, 347 (16%) had been in the system for at least 12 months, including 162 for over 18 months. In response, the Home Office said the Government is “honouring its Windrush commitments and providing support to those affected every day”, adding that the compensation scheme “will stay open as long as needed”.

Asked why there are such drastic reversals in compensation decisions, Jacqueline told PA: “I think some of the problems are that they’ve not resourced the team. They themselves say they’re under-resourced so that’s a big issue but also very poor-quality case-working. I think they’re inefficient. I just don’t think that the Home Office has properly skilled this up.”

Jacqueline said her team felt due diligence was not done on the cases initially and people were providing clear evidence that they are eligible but where some things were missing, they were being dismissed rather than being contacted to say that extra details were needed. She added: “They don’t do that and it’s so distressing because remember, these people are seriously traumatised. I have not met anybody affected by the Windrush scandal that’s not traumatised.”

In 2020, a review of the scandal found the Home Office had demonstrated “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation. But its author Wendy Williams said the actions did not satisfy all the features of institutional racism.

Ms McKenzie said: “I think it’s a mixture of inefficiency, lack of prioritisation and institutional racism. I don’t believe they would treat another group in society this callously. If you’re not seeing how you’ve damaged and traumatised a group, if you can’t see that the scheme is a priority, to me that means the government is seeing those affected as less than - and that is institutional racism.”

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Jacqueline McKenzie

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