Two years after Windrush scandal, many await compensation
Victims say the government’s compensation scheme is inefficient and illogical, as calls grow for an NGO to manage the process instead.
Dominic Akers-Paul, 27, is still waiting for the full compensation he believes he is rightfully owed by the United Kingdom government.
He is one of the thousands of Windrush victims whose issues with immigration documentation have cast a troubling shadow over his personal and professional experiences.
His mother was born at sea, as his grandmother travelled between St Kitts and Nevis, the dual-island Caribbean nation and former British colony, and the UK. She was not considered a British citizen as a result.
Throughout most of her life, Dominic’s mother had difficulty proving she was British – a problem that was passed down to her son.
Before he finally received his passport from the British government when he was 18, Akers-Paul was restricted from leaving the country, and was unable to attend his grandmother’s funeral in the Caribbean.
He was also unable to work.
After completing secondary school at age 16, Akers-Paul sought to take on an apprenticeship. But he was forced to abandon that plan when the company that wanted to hire him asked for his right to work. At the time, he did not have the right documents.
Many of the Windrush generation – people arriving in the UK from 1948 until 1971 from Caribbean countries – have been found to lack proper immigration documentation as a result of government failures.
The victims, whose immigration status was never formalised, were improperly classified by the government as being illegally resident in the UK.
The scandal also affects the descendants of these victims, like Akers-Paul.
Under the UK’s controversial hostile environment policy – an official strategy first announced in 2012 to make life as challenging as possible for those without a right to remain – access to healthcare, employment, and welfare was denied for the Windrush generation and other Commonwealth citizens.
In April 2019, a year after the Windrush scandal broke, the UK Home Office launched a compensation scheme to repair the damage.
But claimants and campaigners decried the offer as inadequate after taking into account the lengthy ordeal many had been put through.
The scheme was overhauled in December 2020 after a considerable outcry.
The Home Office increased the minimum “Tier 1” payment – a guaranteed base level for everyone whom the Home Office accepts is a victim of the Windrush scandal – from 250 pounds to 10,000 pounds ($350 to $14,100).
Since May last year, Akers-Paul has been in a battle with the Home Office for his payment.
He was initially offered a Tier 1 payment of just 3,000 pounds ($4,300), an amount that was later increased to 40,000 pounds ($56,400).
Believing that his case merited further consideration, Akers-Paul made a Tier 2 application.
This category acknowledges that the victim has suffered significant hardship as a result of the scandal.
The Home Office has requested extensive proof of suffering – including evidence Akers-Paul was rejected from the job years ago because he did not have a passport.
Campaigners say this kind of evidence is impossible to provide because it was not processed electronically or simply does not exist any longer.
“[The caseworker] said that there was no loss of earnings because I didn’t keep any of the letters detailing that they couldn’t hire me because I didn’t have a passport. Because I can’t prove that, they can’t offer any award,” Akers-Paul said.
“The evidence they want you to provide, they know you’re not going to have, and then when you can’t provide it, they say they can’t award you for something you can’t prove … So it’s sort of like it’s all set up for you to fail.”
Further, despite his lack of documentation rendering him unable to work or leave the country for 18 years, “[the Home Office] said that was only a couple of months of harm”, he said.
Akers-Paul is appealing the Home Office’s rejection of his Tier 2 application, helped by lawyers working with Windrush Lives, a campaign group assisting victims of the scandal.
Windrush Lives told Al Jazeera: “The evidentiary burdens placed on claimants to the Windrush Compensation Scheme are extremely high and, in many cases, impossible to meet.
“This is a perverse inversion of responsibility for the Windrush Scandal, whereby claimants are yet again asked to provide evidence that they simply do not have, precisely because of the injustices of hostile environment policies that are supposedly being righted through the Scheme.”
Last month, a National Audit Office (NAO) investigation showed that 633 people out of an initial government estimate of 15,000 eligible claimants have received payments.
In a written statement to Parliament on April 29, Home Secretary Priti Patel admitted that, of the 1,417 cases currently being considered by the Home Office, more than 500 cases have been in consideration for more than a year.
The Home Office recently revealed that 21 people have died waiting for compensation claims to be paid.
Campaigner Patrick Vernon launched a petition for the Windrush claims scheme to be managed independently by a non-government agency in order to “provide trust, respect, empathy and confidence to the victims and the families”.
That petition has gained nearly 60,000 signatures.
He told Al Jazeera that the NAO report underscores the need for the compensation scheme to be taken out of the hands of the Home Office.
“The scheme was not designed in the spirit and essence of restorative justice of righting the wrongs,” Vernon told Al Jazeera. “The bureaucracy and constant delays further reinforce the anxiety and trauma on the victims and families.”
He said the scheme “was not co-designed with the victims, but based on current processes which are part of the nature of structural racism in the Home Office and the ongoing implementation of the hostile environment policy”.