'They are waiting for us to die off': Windrush scandal compensation scheme branded ‘a failure’

Conroy Downie, a 67-year-old Windrush victim who has been advising thousands of others on how to make compensation claims. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A Windrush scandal victim has said the government is waiting for them to "die off" amid mounting concerns over the effectiveness of compensation payout.

Conroy Downie, a 67-year-old Windrush victim who has been advising thousands of others on how to make compensation claims and is still waiting for his case to be fully settled, said: “It’s a failure, it’s disgusting. I think they are waiting for us to die off.”

The great-grandfather, who was born in Jamaica and came to the UK as a teenager before joining the Army but twice wrongly faced deportation amid the scandal, said “the system has failed us” as he described how one of the main problems was that people still “don’t trust the Home Office”.

The compensation scheme has been in place since April 3, 2019 in a bid to right the wrongs of the scandal, which emerged a year earlier and saw many British citizens, mostly from the Caribbean, denied access to healthcare and benefits and threatened with deportation despite having the right to live in the UK.

Critics of the beleaguered scheme have repeatedly called for the Home Office to be stripped of responsibility for determining and handling payments to victims and said it should be turned over to an independent body instead.

Despite growing concerns around the number of people dying before receiving payouts, the Home Office has so far resisted demands for such reforms, warning that changing how the system is administered could disrupt claims being processed and lead to delayed payments.

Immigration and human rights lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie, who has worked with more than 400 Windrush victims, said: “Like the Post Office Horizon scandal, it is deplorable that the scheme is managed by the perpetrators of the wrong.”

The partner and head of immigration and asylum law at the firm Leigh Day said the Home Office “must speed up the decision making” and work with lawyers and campaigners to bring about reform.

While there have been “some improvements” over the years, “we are still some way to go to say the scheme is operating in an efficient way”, she added.

The comments follow calls last month in the Lords for Windrush scandal victims to have similar support to those affected by the Post Office scandal.

According to analysis of the latest available Home Office figures, 7,862 claims have been made as of January 2024.

A total of £80.1 million had been paid out by the end of the first month of this year for 2,233 claims - an average of nearly £35,900 per claim.

Some 4,847 claims had been fully closed by this time, of which just over half (52%) were found to have no entitlement to compensation, 36% were offered compensation, and the remaining 12% had their eligibility for a claim refused or withdrawn.

Of the 1,345 claims still being processed, 185 (14%) had been in the system for at least 12 months, including 83 for more than 18 months.

This is a slight improvement on a year ago; at the end of January 2023, 19% of claims (416 out of 2,192) had been in the system for a year or more, with 171 for more than 18 months.

The 12 month-plus proportion has crept upwards in recent months, however, having dipped as low as 12% in October 2023. It peaked at 38% in June 2022.

The HMT Empire Windrush brought migrants to the UK Credit: PA

Meanwhile just over a third (35%) of claims in January 2024 had been in the system for one to three months, down from 39% a year earlier, but up from 18% two years ago in January 2022.

The number of claims received by case workers has been on a downward trend in recent months.

The average was 174 per month in the three months to January 2024, down from 204 in the previous three months and well below the 286 per month in the equivalent three months a year earlier (November 2022 to January 2023).

The Home Office insisted the government “remains absolutely committed to righting the wrongs of the Windrush scandal” and has continued to improve the process so people “receive the maximum award as quickly as possible”.

“We firmly believe moving the operation of the scheme away from the Home Office would risk significantly delaying vital payments to people – there would be considerable disruption to the processing of outstanding claims whilst a new body was established and made operational,” a spokeswoman added.

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