A Greater Manchester legal organisation is urging people to come forward and claim the money they are entitled to under the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) is offering free legal advice to help people get compensation from the programme, which was set up in 2019 for people from the Commonwealth who had been unable to prove their right to be in the UK despite living here for decades.
The GMIAU says many people are unable to put together a successful claim or do not even know they could be entitled to money, and hit out at the complexity of the application process.
The Government has said it is continuing to process claims and has already awarded millions of pounds in compensation under the scheme.
Why is GMIAU offering legal advice on the Windrush Compensation Scheme?
GMIAU says only about 7% of Windrush survivors have been compensated so far for the hardship and discrimination they suffered, working on Home Office figures which suggest around 15,000 people could be eligible but only 3,878 people have applied, with 1,037 receiving payouts.
The organisation has now taken on the running of the Windrush Legal Initiative, a partnership with eight law firms that aims to provide free advice for people who could claim compensation for unjust treatment by the Home Office.
Over the last year it has assisted 29 people with their claims and is now calling for others to come forward.
Funding from The Access to Justice Foundation has been provided to run outreach sessions to ensure GMIAU’s work is targeted to those who most need it.
GMIAU says the application process is far too complicated and unclear and without specialist legal advice people who have been badly treated over decades by the Government have comparatively little hope of succeeding.
The organisation also suggests that too much emphasis has been placed in publicity for the scheme on people who arrived from the Caribbean and their descendants, when in fact people from other parts of the world who have been detained, deported or denied their legal rights by the Government can all apply.
What has GMIAU said about Windrush compensation?
Supervising solicitor of GMIAU, Nicola Burgess, said: “The initiative provides vital access to justice for those who have experienced decades of disbelief.
“An inability to prove lawful status denies a person their rights and prevents access to key services we take for granted.
“The human impact of this is immeasurable. Many survivors we work with have lost employment, been detained, threatened with deportation, made homeless, experienced the breakdown of relationships and have been unable to visit loved ones. Working with our teams of lawyers they at last feel supported and listened to.”
GMIAU policy officer Rivka Shaw added: “We think as many people as possible should be supported to access the compensation they are entitled to. The scheme has only paid out a fraction of the money the Government anticipated.
“That’s partly due to delays in decision-making and partly because it is inaccessible and has not been publicised very well. As it currently is, the scheme is not fit for purpose.
“The impact of the Windrush scandal had on people, ultimately, no compensation can ever make up for. The level of suffering these people have undergone is something the Home Office can never take back.
“Many people are quite elderly and are not very well and would like the money to come through while they are still around to be able to enjoy it. Many people have died before accessing the compensation they were entitled to for the way they were treated.”
How do I check eligibility and apply for the scheme?
The GMIAU says you could be able to claim compensation if you, your parents or grandparents came to the UK from a Commonwealth country before 1973.
In addition you could be eligible if you came to the UK from any country before 31 December 1988 and are now settled here.
Close family members of someone eligible who has themselves suffered significant losses due to Home Office treatment can also claim, along with people representing the estate of someone who would have been able to claim themselves but have died.
GMIAU says anyone who thinks they are entitled to compensation should get in touch with it to be set up with specialist legal advice. It says people should email Ms Burgess at [email protected]
What has the Government said?
A Home Office spokesperson told a national newspaper that so far £40.5m has been paid out in compensation and of the 3,878 claims put in, half had received final decisions and half had been awarded money.
The spokesperson added: “The mistreatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments was completely unacceptable and the home secretary will right those wrongs.”