COMMONS

Home Office needs major reform to avoid Windrush scandal repeat

03 July 2018

The appalling treatment of the Windrush generation and their descendants shows the need for root and branch reform to the Home Office's culture, policy and approach to immigration, say Home Affairs Committee report on Windrush.

Thousands affected

Thousands of people have been affected and denied their rights – with 8,000 referrals to the taskforce, and over 2,000 documents confirming status issued so far. It is unacceptable that the Home Office still cannot tell us the number of people who have been unlawfully detained, were told to report to Home Office centres, who lost their jobs, or were denied medical treatment or other services.

The Windrush generation were caught up in a series of different policy, cultural and organisational changes in the Home Office, including the removal of caseworker discretion, the removal of independent checks and balances such as appeals or legal aid, the use of targets, and a raft of laws collectively known as the 'hostile' or, more recently, ‘compliant’ environment. Major changes are needed in each of these areas

Culture of suspicion and scepticism

A change in culture at the Home Office over recent years as a consequence of political decisions has led to an environment in which applicants appear to have been automatically treated with suspicion and scepticism and forced to follow processes that appear designed to set them up to fail. Oversight mechanisms at senior levels in the Home Office repeatedly failed over several years.

Urgent need for reform

The report welcomes the Windrush taskforce but calls for more action including an appeal process for rejected Windrush cases, a hardship fund and the publication of the redacted Home Office guidance to provide clarity and transparency.

The report calls for a number of urgent changes and reforms to deliver on the objective the Home Secretary has set for a ‘fair and humane’ immigration system – including an overhaul of the casework culture, restoring immigration appeals and legal aid, and removal of the net migration target. It also calls for an evaluation of the entire suite of hostile environment measures, questioning whether they should continue in anything like their current form.

Lessons must be learnt

The Committee repeats warnings and recommendations made in previous reports on complexity, culture, errors and resources – all of which contributed to the suffering of the Windrush generation. And it warns that urgent action is needed to prevent other groups facing a similar plight – including undocumented children, EU nationals once the registration scheme is introduced, and people from the Chagos Islands,

The report is not a full inquiry into what happened as the Home Office still cannot answer the majority of questions regarding the extent of the problem. Inaccurate information was provided to the Committee during the inquiry, there remain unanswered questions on the subject of targets, and serious concerns remain about advice given at the top of the Home Office. The "lessons learned review" by Wendy Williams must be properly independent and must publish its findings, and the Alex Allan review into advice given to the Home Secretary should also be published. The Home Affairs Select Committee will continue to pursue further information and collect and publish evidence.

Main findings and recommendations:

The scale of issue

  • There remain too many unanswered questions. Home Office should reveal how many people have been unlawfully subject to deportation, detention and reporting requirements and the extent to which post-1973 arrivals, children and grandchildren have been affected
  • Home Office should guarantee that no-one from the Windrush generation or their descendants are currently subject to reporting requirements

Resolution of cases and support for victims

The dedicated Windrush taskforce is very welcome, but the redacted guidance should be published in full and a right of appeal introduced

  • Passport fees should be waived for Windrush cases
  • The compensation scheme must recognise emotional distress as well as financial harm, and must be open to Windrush children and grandchildren who were affected
  • A hardship fund should be established immediately for those in acute financial difficulty

Learning lessons

  • Lessons learned review by Wendy Williams must be substantially independent and findings should be published
  • For the Home Office not to publish the Alex Allan Review into advice given to Ministers is unacceptable. We have seen the Executive Summary and recommend its immediate publication.
  • We remain concerned about the interaction between targets, bonuses and decision-making and are concerned that a target led approach may have led enforcement officers to focus on people like the Windrush generation who may have been easier to detain and remove.
  • The inability of the Home Office to assess the scale of errors or the number of people being treated unlawfully under the hostile/compliant environment is a serious problem. It is irresponsible of government to rely on a policy when it lacks information on whether it is leading to injustice or abuse or achieving aims.
  • The Home Office took far too long to correct the record after giving inaccurate information to the Committee. Information supplied since has been unsatisfactory.

Recommended reforms

Welcome Ministers’ commitment to culture change and to giving the Home Office a more human face. We support a return to face to face interviews, greater common sense discretion and judgement, and greater transparency on processes, requirements and decisions.

  • Balance of probabilities should become the standard of proof across UKVI
  • Home Secretary should seek extra funding to solve chronic under resourcing in the immigration directorates
  • The risk that the net migration target could encourage the Home Office to increase departures without adequate checks on lawful status is an additional reason to seek its replacement
  • Restore immigration appeal rights, and also legal aid, most urgently for children
  • Review and reform British Nationality law, particularly the British Nationality Act 1981
  • Reduce barriers for children to establish their immigration status, including lowering fees to cost-level and waivers for vulnerable children
  • Question whether hostile environment should continue in anything like its present form. Irresponsible without any assessment of accuracy or abuse. Measures to make life difficult for people in the UK illegally must be reviewed, in terms of their accuracy, efficacy, fairness, impact (including both intended and unintended consequences) and value-for-money.

Committee Chair, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper, commented:

"Members of the Windrush generation have been denied their rights and treated appallingly by the Home Office and there is still a very long way to go to put this right or to ensure it won’t happen again.

Time and again we heard evidence about the culture of disbelief that has developed in the Home Office in recent years, about people feeling they were being set up to fail, and a complete lack of proper checks or safeguards to prevent injustice. Policy choices and political decisions in the Home Office led to a hostile culture and callous system so alarm bells didn't even ring in the department about locking up a grandmother who has lived here for decades, or when long standing lawful residents lost their NHS treatment and were met with a wall of bureaucracy in response. Oversight in the Home Office that should have caught these problems completely failed.

Swift action is needed to make sure, as the Home Secretary has said, the government do right by the Windrush generation. It is very troubling that the Home Office appears to have already rejected our proposal for a hardship fund. Those who have been badly wronged by the British Government should not have to struggle with debts while they are waiting for the compensation scheme being up and running.

More widely, the Home Office needs to learn lessons and instigate major reforms - including on culture, targets and policies - or this kind of appalling injustice will happen all over again to others in future. The ‘lessons learned’ review needs to be established as properly independent, publishing its findings and unearthing all relevant Home Office information. The Committee will continue to press for information, publishing what we know, and scrutinising the government’s review.

Decision-making needs to be overhauled, proper appeals, checks and safeguards need to be reinstated, the net migration target which creates perverse incentives should go, and the Committee questions whether the hostile, or compliant, environment should continue in anything like its present form. The new Home Secretary has a great deal of work to do before the UK has a humane and fair immigration system. The Windrush generation, who have contributed so much to Britain, have been badly let down. The Home Office has a responsibility to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again. In the words of Paulette Wilson, wrongly detained and threatened with deportation, ‘You cannot keep treating people like this."

Further information

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