The UK Government has taken steps to compensate Commonwealth nationals who were wrongly deported or detained by officials of the Home Office.
Commonly known as the Windrush generation, those affected arrived in the UK primarily before 1973 but many who came as late as 1988 can qualify under this scheme. They stand liable to receive some monetary compensation.
Mr Martin Forde, a Barbadian Queen’s Counsel (QC) and part-time Judge who practices in the UK, was appointed by the British Home Secretary to advise on a scheme that awards qualifying claimants.
Barbados TODAY met with Mr Forde in London to discuss the general guidelines of his report which was recently recommended to the Home Secretary Mr Sajid Javid and sought clarification on a number of points which are of grave concern to members of the diaspora.
First, the QC advised that all persons who have not yet regularized their status to stay permanently in the UK should do so as a matter of priority. He said a Windrush Task Force has been set up to deal with these matters and persons affected should visit GOVUK/VI in order to register their right to British Citizenship.
He said those most affected had arrived in the UK as adults before 1973. However, those who arrived as a minor at those times should also visit the Task Force for guidance. The process is known as the Windrush Scheme Application and is entirely free. Mr Forde said the Citizens Advice are committed to helping with the completion of all related forms. The QC stressed it is important to have one’s status sorted before any claim is made.
Mr Forde said the Barbados diaspora amounts to nine per cent of all Commonwealth immigrants who responded to the call for evidence and that there are many who unwittingly have no knowledge of their possible entitlement.
Turning to circumstances that would materially affect a claim, Mr Forde said the initial basis would be one where the individual was wrongly deported or detained by the authorities for as little as one day. He added that the amount of compensation as set by law could be as much as £10, 000 for the first day. He said there would also be consequential losses as a result of deportation and he cited instances such as loss of employment, loss of benefits and loss of housing when claims are considered. Further claims could also be considered in cases of distress and any impact on the life of the individual.
Since 2010, there has been a spate of cases where individuals have been asked by their employers of many years to verify their right of residence. In failing to do so because of loss of documents or the authorities being unable to trace their records, these persons have been dismissed and denied the right to receive benefits, free health care and in many cases, seek another job. Unquestionably, these cases will feature on the list of claimants.
Mr Forde also paid special reference to cases where students were either denied University education or had to finance their studies because they were classified erroneously as foreign students when, in fact, they were British nationals. He wondered whether or not the Universities could be seen to be culpable in this exercise.
The QC said the overall task was very challenging, but he is generally satisfied with his achievements. He said he has been able to convince the Home Office that (1) there should be no overall cap on the amount of general compensation payable, (2) 3rd party claims (i.e. an affected relative or some such person) should be admitted, and (3) claims should form part of a valuation in relation to an estate of a deceased person.
However, he is not happy that the Home Office’s ruling on criminality is not consistent with his advice. Currently, if a claimant has had a custodial sentence in excess of four years, he may be disqualified from receiving full compensation under the Windrush Scheme. Mr Forde feels this directive goes against the tenets of common law where the sentence would have been deemed spent after a specified period of time.
Many figures regarding the overall cost of the scheme have been bandied around but Mr Forde would not be drawn to put a figure on the table. He said he simply did not know. He pointed out that the number of claimants is not yet known so, therefore, it would be no more than guesswork and he was not prepared to enter into that game. Figures of between 120 million and 600 million pounds have been reported in the British Press.
He said he expects there could be many legal challenges to some aspects of the scheme and he further admits that there have been teething problems. Nonetheless, he felt this should not deflect from the fundamental principle and correctness of the scheme.
Mr Forde said it is his belief that there are many who are eligible but will not come forward because of many personal reasons, mainly that their status has not been regularized or they hold the belief that the Task Force will pass their information to the Immigration Enforcement Department. The QC said he had the assurance from the Home Secretary that there would be no cross-referencing of information to other Government departments.
Let us hope the Home Secretary’s pledge is held as I am reluctant to remind him of the saying that when a politician tells you his word is his bond, you should take the bond and let him keep his word.
Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and Disapora.