Windrush scandal: 21 people have died before receiving compensation

The Home Office has revealed that 21 people have died while waiting for Windrush compensation claims to be paid, amid continuing concern that the scheme is taking too long to make payments to elderly people affected by the scandal.

The number has more than doubled since figures released in November showed that nine people had died after applying for compensation but before receiving it.

Data released in response to parliamentary questions also shows that many claimants have experienced long delays, with more than 500 people waiting more than a year for a decision , of whom 214 have been waitingmore than 18 months and five have been waiting for two years.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “It is very regrettable that a claimant passes away before a compensation award can be made or an apology sent to them. The Windrush compensation scheme staff are working hard to ensure that where they are aware of claimants with critical or life-shortening illnesses, that their cases are prioritised.”

After widespread criticism of the scheme, the department announced significant reforms in December, with a view to making compensation payments more generous and swifter. Last week the Home Office said it had paid out £14.2m to 633 people. More than £8m was paid in March, double the amount paid in the first 20 months of the scheme’s operation since its launch in 2019.

Organisations working with applicants are beginning to report that some claims are being handled more swiftly, although they voiced frustrationabout the overall operation of the scheme.

More than 2,000 people have applied for compensation. Initial official estimates indicated that up to 15,000 people could apply and that anywhere between £200m and £500m could be paid out to those affected by the scandal, in which thousands of people who had moved to the UK legally in the 1950s and 1960s were wrongly designated as illegal immigrants by the Home Office.

Two inquiries are under way into the running of scheme: a home affairs select committee is running an investigation and a National Audit Office report is expected to be published this week.

Campaigners have questioned why the Home Office was handed responsibility for supervising a compensation scheme designed to rectify Home Office mistakes.

The absence of funding for legal advice has also been highlighted as problematic, with some applicants struggling to complete the form alone. Many applicants have complained about the long delays, which have left them continuing to wrestle with the often severe financial consequences of having been wrongly classified as immigration offenders.

Among those known to have died after applying for compensation before their applications had been fully resolved was Paulette Wilson, a former House of Commons canteen worker, who was wrongly classified as an illegal immigrant about 50 years after arriving in the UK from Jamaica as a child.

She was twice arrested, detained for a week and booked on to a plane to Jamaica before being granted a last-minute reprieve. She died last July, a few weeks after delivering a petition to Downing Street calling on the government to speed up compensation payments.

Stuart McDonald, a Scottish National party MP who sits on the home affairs committee, said: “That 21 people have died waiting for compensation having submitted a claim is absolutely tragic, and everything that is possible must be done to avoid that happening to anyone else.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “In December we reformed the Windrush compensation scheme to ensure payments were made faster and the awards offered were greater, and the scheme has now offered more than £26m since April 2019, of which more than £14m has been paid.”

Officials have also committed to make a swift minimum payment of £10,000 once a claim has been approved.

Jacqueline McKenzie, whose firm McKenzie Beute and Pope is helping about 210 people with compensation claims, mostly on a pro bono basis, said: “A lot of the people affected by the Windrush injustices are post retirement age and some are quite elderly; many have suffered from physical ill health too.

“Since the changes announced in December 2020, I’ve seen offers coming in faster. This pace needs to continue, otherwise sadly the numbers of people dying before getting justice will rise.”

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