NAO highlights Home Office failures leading to Windrush scandal

5 Dec 18

Poor record keeping and a failure to think through policy consequences meant the Home Office did not protect the needs and rights of the Windrush generation of migrants, the spending watchdog concluded.

The National Audit Office has probed the causes of the Windrush scandal, and published its findings today.

Thousands of people who migrated to the UK from the Caribbean have potentially fallen foul of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy designed to root out illegal immigrants.

The policy – now rebadged as the ‘compliant environment’ – introduced more checks and controls on migrants. Both public and private sector organisations, such as banks, landlords and employers, are involved in verifying their immigration status, right to work and access services.

However, many Caribbean migrants who came to Britain in the decades following the Second World War were not able to prove they had indefinite leave to remain. Some were denied access to healthcare, refused re-entry into the country or even deported, despite in some cases being elderly and frail.

The NAO noted that many of these people, while residing in the UK legally, were never given documents and the Home Office kept no central records.

Although, since 2014, the NAO and the chief inspector of borders and immigration had flagged concerns about the Home Office’s poor record keeping, no action was taken.

NAO head Amyas Morse said: “The treatment of people who had a legitimate right to remain in the UK raises grave questions about how the Home Office discharged its duty of care towards people who were made vulnerable because of lack of documentation.

“It failed to protect their rights to live, work and access services in the UK, and many have suffered distress and material loss as a result. This was both predictable and forewarned.”

The report stated that, to date, the Home Office does not know how many members of the Windrush generation have been negatively affected by the ‘hostile environment’ approach.

A taskforce established to help people resolve their immigration status in the wake of the scandal had, as of September, received just over 6,500 inquiries, the NAO found.

By the end of September, the Home Office had issued documents to almost 2,700 people confirming their status. Of these, almost three quarters (73%) were from Caribbean Commonwealth countries, a quarter from other Commonwealth countries and 2% from countries outside the Commonwealth.

The Home Office was showing a “surprising” lack of curiosity and little urgency to identify other non-Caribbean groups who might have been adversely affected, the auditors said.

The department has insufficient evidence to conclude that other nationalities could be caught up in the problems, the watchdog found, even though its own enquiry line is not limited to people of Caribbean origin.

Costs of the compensation scheme that has been established to recompense individuals who have been affected are not yet known.

The NAO recommended the Home Office be more proactive in identifying people affected, offer more support to potentially vulnerable people caught up in the immigration system and improve its risk assessment of policies.

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier condemned the Home Office’s “careless approach” to implementation of the hostile environment policy.

“The impact has been immense and much wider for those caught up in it – losing jobs; homes and in some cases being unable to return home to the UK,” she said.

“It is shocking that the Home Office is not proactively reviewing other Commonwealth nationals’ cases and has not yet established the full extent of the problems.”

A Home Office spokesperson said the home secretary had already issued a “profound apology” to the Windrush generation.

They added: “The home secretary is absolutely determined to right the wrongs of the past and an independent lessons learned review, led by [police inspector] Wendy Williams, has been set up to establish what went wrong and how to prevent it happening again.

“In the New Year, we will also outline details of the compensation scheme for those affected and how members of the Windrush generation can apply.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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