Deportation flights are “seriously undermining” the Home Office’s work on the Windrush compensation scheme, a Government adviser has warned.
Martin Forde QC said victims of the Windrush scandal “don’t trust the Home Office at all” and are “genuinely scared” – which could be deterring people from applying for compensation.
The compensation lawyer, who was appointed as the department’s independent adviser as it brought in the Windrush claims scheme, told MPs that there were problems with the Home Office’s “image and its portrayal”.
Speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, he said: “Civil servants are doing a difficult job well but the institution is tainted.
“The Home Office don’t do anything illegal, they would say, in terms of matters such as the deportation flights. But there’s no doubt that’s seriously undermining of process. There are lots of people who are genuinely scared.”
He told MPs he made it “very clear that I think every time there is one of these flights it causes a problem in terms of people’s confidence in the Home Office” but noted that some of those deported are “not regarded as genuine Windrushers.”
The Windrush generation “still feel lesser compared with almost every other migrant community”, he warned, adding: “This is a community who don’t think big government works for them.
“They don’t think they are treated fairly and as soon as there is even a rumour of Home Office potential entrapment, deportation flights, I think that really diminishes confidence and people aren’t applying.”
His comments come days after 13 prisoners were deported to Jamaica, while a further 23 were granted a last minute legal reprieve and now have their cases under review.
The Home Office insisted that those due on the flight were serious foreign offenders and none were eligible for the Windrush compensation scheme.
But it would not say whether any of the 36 Jamaican citizens had immediate relatives who were from the Windrush generation or whether any had lived in the country since they were children.
Mr Forde, who said he was appointed in 2018 by then home secretary Sajid Javid partially because of his legal background and also due to his Caribbean heritage, said the compensation scheme, if properly implemented, is a “perfectly fair and reasonable scheme. But the caveat is ‘properly implemented’.”
He said victims he has spoken to find applying for the scheme a “real battle” and “onerous”, adding that the scheme was designed to operate on the “balance of probabilities” and not a criminal threshold of responsibility as now appears to be the case.
Calling for the department to cut back on the paperwork needed to prove claims, he said the “audit trail” of people applying for the scheme “doesn’t have this middle class neatness to it”, adding: “It’s failure to produce documentation that got us into this mess.
“I think we all feel that these people should be treated fairly and they should be compensated generously.”
Lawyers also speaking to the committee highlighted examples of when the Home Office had continued to ask claimants for more proof of how they were affected by the scandal, despite evidence already cited being available on Government records.
Holly Stow, a senior caseworker for the North Kensington Law Centre told MPs: “The way that people feel is this shouldn’t have been a scheme administered by the Home Office.
“The caseworkers are not empathetic and that shows through these really poor offers and the level of evidence that they have to supply – the scandal came about because of their lack of evidence so why now, when they need to access justice, are you asking for something that is basically the impossible?”
She said a key issue was “transparency”, there was a “severe lack of communication” and “the evidence thresholds are way too high”.
Jacqueline McKenzie, a solicitor and immigration adviser for McKenzie Beute and Pope who is helping victims with claims pro-bono, said the scheme was “extremely problematic” and claimants needed access to professional support.
While Mr Forde added that claimants should have access to legal aid.