UK

Windrush Compensation Scheme was ‘designed to fail’ – presenter Floella Benjamin

Baroness Floella Benjamin speaking at the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument (John Sibley/PA)
Baroness Floella Benjamin speaking at the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument (John Sibley/PA) Baroness Floella Benjamin speaking at the unveiling of the National Windrush Monument (John Sibley/PA)

The Windrush Compensation Scheme was “designed to fail” and the Home Office is traumatising victims of the scandal, former children’s TV presenter Floella Benjamin has claimed.

Baroness Benjamin, who chaired the Windrush Commemoration Committee, tackled the Government on rollout delays, and urged for a replacement policy that includes legal aid for claimants.

The Liberal Democrat peer said: “The compensation scheme that has been implemented was designed to fail, because procedural delays have meant that only 12.8% of the estimated 11,500 eligible claimants have been compensated.

“Applicants report a growing fear and mistrust of the Home Office, who was responsible for this historic injustice.

“Many are experiencing trauma as a result of their interactions with the Home Office.”

She demanded a new policy that is “independent, transparent, fair, and will include access to legal aid and right of appeal to an independent tribunal”.

Play School’s Lady Benjamin raised her concerns as peers discussed the Home Office’s decision to disband the dedicated team responsible for the Windrush policy, and instead opt for an “embedded approach”.

Labour peer Lord Davies of Brixton warned that there was a “serious lack of trust in the Government’s intentions”, and that people he had spoken to had “no faith” in the Government’s commitment to righting the wrong of the Windrush scandal.

Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom told peers: “The compensation scheme was designed to be as clear and as simple as possible, so people don’t need legal assistance to make a claim.

“In 2021 and 2022, in response to feedback and indeed in consultation with stakeholders, we published redesigned claim forms.

“The new forms are longer but they are easier to complete, because they include more targeted and closed questions to help people understand and provide the key information that we need from them.

“The claims forms also now have a Crystal Mark from the Plain English Company, demonstrating our commitment to ensuring the scheme is accessible. The scheme is also subject to independent scrutiny.”

He added: “Given the significant progress made since 2020, our Windrush Lessons Learned response has now been embedded into everyday activities.

“It is our assessment that an embedded approach will better sustain the improvements made so far and thereby our commitments to the Windrush generation and their descendants.

“The dedicated Windrush compensation and documentation teams remain in place and there are no plans to close either scheme.”

The Windrush Compensation Scheme has paid out more than £71 million across 1,932 claims as of September 2023.

Windrush scandal
Windrush scandal HMT Empire Windrush, docked at Southampton (PA)

Over 75% of claims have received a final decision and the time it takes to allocate a claim for substantive case work consideration has dropped from 18 months to five months.

Lord Sharpe said of the compensation scheme: “There is no cap, there is no time limit, it will continue until all claims are met.”

He added that the majority of the 30 recommendations in the 2020 Windrush report have been implemented, including a new ethical decision-making model, new training for caseworkers and new forms of scrutiny.

More than 21,400 people have applied to the documentation scheme, with 16,700 people being issued with documentation confirmation their status or British citizenship, as of the third quarter of 2023, including more than 8,500 who were granted citizenship.

However, there have been major delays in payments to those entitled to them, with a number of people dying before they receive their compensation.

The number of applications so far is also a fraction of what the Government initially anticipated, with some arguing that the scheme is not accessible enough.

In April, Human Rights Watch branded the scheme “hostile” and “not fit for purpose”, requesting that the running be handed over from the Home Office to an independent body.

In its report, it said the scheme places an unfair burden of proof on claimants to show they faced life-altering losses when they were misclassified as illegal immigrants, and with no legal aid this was “violating the rights of many to an effective remedy for human rights abuses they suffered”.