It has been revealed by the Home Office that 21 people have died while waiting for Windrush compensation claims to be paid. This comes amid continuing concern that the scheme is taking too long to make payments to elderly people affected by the scandal.
This number has more than doubled since November when the figure showed that nine people had died without receiving the redress they had applied for.
Data which was released in response to parliamentary questions also shows than may claimants have experienced long delays, with more than 500 people waiting more than a year for a decision, of whom 214 have been waiting more than 18 months and five have been waiting for two years.
Priti Patel, home secretary, said: “It is very regrettable when 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, their cases are prioritised”.
After considerable criticism of the scheme, the department announced significant reforms in December, with a view to making compensation payments swifter and more generous. 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 after its launch in 2019.
Organisations who are working with applicants are beginning to report that some claims are being handled more swiftly, although they voiced frustration regarding 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 designation as illegal immigrants by the Home Office.
Two inquiries are under way into the running of the 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 has left them continuing to wrestle with the often severe financial consequences of having been wrongly classified as immigration offenders.
Scottish National party MP, Stuart McDonald, 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 have seen offers coming in faster. This pace needs to continue, otherwise sadly the numbers of people dying before getting justice will rise”.