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Windrush: Home Office failed in duty to protect people's rights

Scandal combined lack of concern for policy impacts with systemic failure on record-keeping.

Report summary

The Windrush scandal demonstrates a combination of a lack of concern about the real-world impact of the Home Office’s (the Department) immigration policies compounded by a systemic failure to keep accurate records, meaning many people who are British Citizens or have leave to remain in the UK do not have the paperwork to prove it.

The Home Office was aware of this through case enquiries from citizens and their MPs. Yet, the Department failed in its duty to protect the rights of people to live, work and access services and benefits in the UK when designing and implementing its immigration policies.

This failure was compounded by the Department’s lack of action when there were clear warnings that members of the Windrush generation, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, were being denied their rights.

The Department has a duty of care to identify and support everyone affected by the Windrush scandal, but in practice its actions do not live up to its own promise to do everything it can to put things right.

It has set up a task force, but while this belated flurry of activity may help some of those who have identified themselves, it does nothing to tackle the systemic issues that led to the problems in the first place. Rather than taking full responsibility to resolve the problems it has caused, it is being complacent, neglecting to identify those affected and denying people support to rebuild their lives.

We do not believe that the Department is doing enough to address the appalling defects in its systems, processes and data quality, which contributed to the scandal.

Given the human cost of wrong decisions in the immigration system, the Department must invest significant effort so that its staff make the right decisions and correctly record people’s immigration history and status.

This has major implications for the future as the UK prepares to leave the EU: the Home Office must ensure that EU citizens are easily able to regularise their status and stay in the UK as the Government has promised, rather than being caught up in a similar scandal.

Chair's comments given yesterday:

“The human consequences of this appalling scandal are tragic and well-documented. But there is a long way to go before the Home Office can credibly claim to have put things right.

“It is simply not taking ownership of the problems it created, not least the urgent housing needs of many members of the Windrush Generation. 
“A supposedly ‘urgent’ hardship fund has taken eight months to set up; a planned compensation scheme is still not operating, and the Home Office could not tell us when it would be.

“Its failure to monitor the impact on vulnerable people of its compliant environment policy was also a clear dereliction of duty – all while the Department continued to make life-changing decisions informed by bad data and inadequate systems.

“It is deeply regrettable that a scandal of this magnitude, on the back of repeated and unheeded warnings, does not appear to have fully shaken the Home Office out of its complacency about its systemic and cultural problems. This must change now.

“Our report sets out action the Home Office should take to put right the wrongs of Windrush, properly address potential cases in the wider Commonwealth and ensure the Department’s systems are fit for purpose in future. We expect a swift and positive response to our recommendations.”

Conclusions and recommendations

For many years, the Home Office has failed to protect people’s legal rights to live, work and access services and benefits in the UK. The Department’s operating policy over the last 20 years has been to receive and process applications for visas and other types of immigration status under a rules-based system. The Department has shown a lack of care by producing weak impact assessments and evaluations of its compliant environment policies which failed to identify the potential negative effects on people who were in the UK lawfully but had poor documentation; ignoring key warning signs including a 2014 report that flagged the potential adverse impact of compliant environment policy on certain groups; and not acting when Caribbean ministers raised the plight of Windrush generation members in April 2016. We are deeply concerned by Department’s lack of action and understanding of the needs of applicants. As the UK prepares to exit the EU there is a risk that EU citizens will also be caught out if they do not have the required documents. It is vital that the Department acts on the lessons of Windrush.

Recommendation: The Department must protect and prioritise people’s rights to residency or citizenship when designing, delivering and monitoring its immigration policies and systems. It should report back to us in 6 months on how it is putting impact assessments and external consultations at the core of its policy making to identify how new immigration policies could affect people and how to mitigate against the risk of unintended consequences. It should also report back to us on how it is addressing the findings of Wendy Williams’s lessons learned review.

Recommendation: It should redesign and test its application processes and systems with applicants and staff to ensure they are accessible and easy to use.  It should report back to the Committee in 12 months on the progress it has made, including a description of the testing it has done and how it is identifying and managing risks.

The Department is making life-changing decisions on people’s rights, based on incorrect data from systems that are not fit for purpose. This Committee, our predecessor and other commentators have raised concerns about the quality of the Department’s data numerous times. We are extremely concerned that the Department is not taking this seriously. In 2014, the Department accepted the recommendation of the previous Committee that it immediately take steps to improve the quality and clarity of the data it collects and holds, but we have seen little evidence of improvements. Indeed, in 2016 the Department rejected the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s recommendation that it cleanse its database of ‘disqualified persons’ from holding bank accounts and driving licenses of any one wrongly identified. We find it deeply worrying that, in the session, the Department told us that it did not know whether issues with data and incorrect sanctions on the Windrush generation could apply to other aspects of its immigration application cases. Despite this, the Department promises that Atlas, its new case management system, will resolve existing problems with its legacy Casework Information Database. However, it could not confirm how it will deal with the stock and flow of cases being transferred to Atlas, nor give a definitive timetable for the full roll-out of the system.

Recommendation: In its design and roll-out of Atlas, the Department should prioritise improving the quality of its data. Alongside its Treasury Minute response, the Department should write to us setting out specific plans for data cleansing, migration of the existing case files and controls around the input of new data.

Recommendation: In 6 months’ time, the Department should write to us with an update on how its system for EU citizens to confirm their status is working, to ensure they do not face the same issues as the Windrush generation.

It was a dereliction of duty for the Department not to monitor the impact of its compliant environment policy on vulnerable members of our society. The Department has essentially devolved the enforcement of its compliant environment policies on housing and employment to landlords and employers. Despite the risk of potential inconsistency and discrimination, the Department has not evaluated the impact of its compliant environment measures and acknowledges that it will struggle to do so. Its 2015 evaluation of a pilot of its Right to Rent scheme, which the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants claimed had led to discrimination, was inadequate and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration concluded in 2018 that the Department’s evaluation had simply dismissed concerns about negative impacts such as discrimination.

Recommendation: In its Treasury Minute response to this report the Department should explain its monitoring and evaluation regime for compliant environment measures. It must set out how it intends to incorporate information collected from people affected by the system, not just from those administering it.

Members of the Windrush Generation have lost jobs, benefits, homes and access to health care. The Department is shirking its responsibility to put right the wrongs suffered by individuals because of its mistakes. The Department is not taking ownership for resolving individual cases but is instead interpreting its role narrowly and using other departments’ remits as a poor excuse for inaction. For example, it has done little to secure urgent housing for members of the Windrush Generation, many of whom are homeless or having to rely on family members, and is content to simply leave this to local authorities which are under significant pressure. It demonstrates a disconnect with the reality facing many local authorities to simply devolve responsibility and assume that the problem is resolved. The Department also lacks any sense of urgency: it has taken 8 months to set up an ‘urgent’ hardship fund; and its compensation scheme is still not operating, over a year since the Windrush scandal first broke. The Department could not tell us when the scheme would be launched. Many of those in need of help are elderly and vulnerable and cannot afford to wait any longer. Homelessness is an acute issue for those affected requiring urgent action.

Recommendation: The Department should take immediate responsibility for meeting the urgent needs of individuals. In the case of housing, it needs to have a better solution and explain how it will secure housing quickly for those in dire need.

The Department has not done enough to identify people, from its own data, that might have been affected. We do not accept that reviewing cases from the wider Commonwealth would be disproportionate. Despite clearly acknowledging to us that a wider group of people could be affected, the Department has limited both its reviews, of removals and detentions and of compliant environment sanctions, to people from 12 Caribbean countries. This level of inaction is both deeply frustrating and the Department’s argument that a further review would be disproportionate is a yet another example of it doing as little, rather than as much, as possible to find and help people affected by its actions. The Department could not justify its position adequately given it has not undertaken a sample review of wider Commonwealth cases and has not yet produced the results of its review of compliant environment sanctions. It is also contrary to the Department’s admission that it was reasonable to expect that non-Caribbean nationals may have also been affected, and that people from other nationalities, including India, Australia and Nigeria, have approached it for help. The Windrush scandal concerns the entire Commonwealth, not only Caribbean nationals, and while the Department has reviewed 11,800 Caribbean cases, around 160,000 non-Caribbean Commonwealth cases remain unreviewed. We believe these people cannot be simply ignored.

Recommendation: The Department should extend its historical reviews beyond Caribbean Commonwealth nationals to include other Commonwealth nationals who may have been wrongfully detained, removed or sanctioned under the compliant environment.

The Department is not doing enough to raise awareness of the help available from the Windrush Scheme to the people who so desperately need it. The Department set up the Windrush Scheme in April 2018 to help individuals resolve their immigration status but has been woefully complacent in its promotion of the scheme, particularly internationally.  In failing to promote the Windrush scheme to all Commonwealth citizens who may be affected, the Department is denying victims their right to support. While the Windrush branding has been effective in raising awareness amongst Caribbean nationals, it has been less so in alerting people from other Commonwealth nations. The Department says it has promoted the Windrush scheme internationally but accepts it could do more.

Recommendation: The Department should immediately promote the Windrush scheme more proactively, particularly outside of the UK and the Caribbean.  It should also clearly communicate the need for people to formalise their immigration status more generally so undocumented residents do not get caught out again. The Department should write to us by the end of March outlining the immediate action it has taken and include an update on the number of people who have engaged with the scheme.

Further information

 

Channel website: http://www.parliament.uk/

Original article link: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2017/report-published-windrush-and-home-office-17-19/

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