The Home Office did not deliberately deny the Windrush generation of their legal rights to be in the UK, but it failed to protect their needs when it designed and implemented its immigration policies. This has led to serious consequences for people affected, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

In its report, published today, the NAO provides transparency about what happened and what is being done now to help those affected and to prevent a similar situation happening again.

The NAO has found that when designing and implementing compliant environment policies – previously known as the ‘hostile environment’ – the department did not sufficiently consider the potential implications this would have on those who might find it harder to prove their settled status in the UK, including Windrush migrants who came to the UK between 1948 and 1973 and were given indefinite leave to remain1. Many were not given documentation and the department kept no records. The department itself identified in 2014 that there were around 500,000 settled migrants who would find it harder to prove their status though it has issued biometric residence permits to some 90,000 of this group since June 2014. The department also failed to act on evidence provided in a number of reports and by Caribbean ministers2 that members of the Windrush generation and others could be adversely impacted by its policies.

Poor use of data within the department increased the risk of wrongful removals, detentions and sanctions on public services for the Windrush generation. Both the NAO and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration raised concerns, several times, since 2014, about the quality of the department’s data and controls underpinning its immigration system. The department also ignored the Chief Inspector’s recommendation in 2016 to cleanse its database of individuals who were wrongly flagged as being in the UK illegally.

UK Visas & Immigration makes decisions about whether people should stay in the country. Its application system is complex and performance is geared towards prioritising decisions within agreed timeframes rather than the outcome or impact of the decision, which may have contributed to incorrect decisions. While there is insufficient information to know whether overall removal targets for illegal immigrants contributed to the Windrush situation, these targets would have influenced how enforcement staff carried out their work, in a way that may have increased the risk of wrongful removals.

To date, the department does not know how many members of the Windrush generation have been wrongly impacted by policies designed to target illegal migrants, and the extent of the problems they have faced. It has set up a taskforce to help people resolve their immigration status which, at September, had received 6,589 calls from the Windrush generation and other eligible groups. At the end of September, the Home Office had issued documents to 2,658 people to confirm their status, 73% of whom were from Caribbean Commonwealth countries, 25% were from other Commonwealth countries, and 2% were from countries outside the Commonwealth.

The department has made some attempt to identify how many people have been affected, but has not established the full extent of the problems, and it is showing a lack of curiosity about individuals who are not of Caribbean heritage. So far, it has identified 164 people who were removed or detained and might have been resident in the UK before 1973, just over half of whom (51%) left the UK following enforcement action. The department has apologised to the 18 people in whose cases it considers it is most likely to have acted wrongfully.

To identify people affected, the department has narrowly focused on the files of 11,800 people from twelve Caribbean countries, based on the numbers of individuals who were granted status in the first month of its taskforce.

The department has no plans to review the files of around 160,000 Commonwealth nationals born before 1973, who may have also been wrongfully detained or removed. The department believes this would be disproportionate, but the NAO says the department has insufficient evidence to come to the conclusion that other nationalities would not have been affected and its own Windrush taskforce is open to people from countries outside the Caribbean. The department has also not conducted any analysis to support its assertion about the amount of effort required to review these files. Established principles that set out how government departments should act in cases where people’s legal entitlements have been affected also place an onus on the department to be proactive in identifying people affected.

The department is separately reviewing around 2,000 cases to establish how many people might have been incorrectly sanctioned under ‘proactive’ hostile environment policies, such as having a driving licence revoked. It believes at least 25 people could be identified. However, it is unlikely to ever know how many people were incorrectly denied a job or a home to rent, because it does not have the necessary data.

The department is setting up a compensation scheme. It expects to pay people from a wide range of countries for loss of employment or benefits, wrongful detention and removal, denial of access to public services, and the impact on mental wellbeing. At this stage, the cost of the scheme is unknown due to the uncertainty around the potential number of applications, the complexity of the claims, and how many will be successful.

The NAO has made a number of recommendations to the department to reduce the risk of a similar situation happening again. This includes the department considering its responsibility to be more proactive in identifying people affected, and developing a strategy to support potentially vulnerable people across the immigration system as a whole. It must also improve its approach to assessing risks to individuals and groups, before implementing policies.

“The treatment of people who had a legitimate right to remain in the UK, raises grave questions about how the Home Office discharged its duty of care towards people who were made vulnerable because of lack of documentation. It failed to protect their rights to live, work and access services in the UK, and many have suffered distress and material loss as a result. This was both predictable and forewarned. The department is taking steps to put things right for the Caribbean community, but it has shown a surprising lack of urgency to identify other groups that may have been affected.”

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO

Read the full report

Handling of the Windrush situation

Notes for editors

Key facts 2,658 people granted citizenship, or leave to remain, through the Home Office's Windrush taskforce, as at 30 September 2018 164 cases the Home Office identified of individuals in the country before 1973 who were detained and/or removed since 2002 18 people the Home Office considers most likely to have suffered detriment, such as being detained or removed, because their right to be in the UK was not recognised and therefore where it is most likely to have acted wrongfully 599,078 Commonwealth-born people living in the UK who arrived before 1971, based on the 2011 Census 500,000 Settled migrants living in the UK who do not hold a biometric residence permit to prove their right to reside and access public services, based on Home Office estimates in 2014 Around 171,000 Commonwealth individuals on whom the Home Office has a record on its immigration database and who were born before 1 January 1973 11,800 Cases involving detention and removal reviewed by the Home Office, relating to Caribbean Commonwealth nationals Around 2,000 Caribbean nationals whose case the Home Office is reviewing to assess whether or not they may have been in the UK before 1973 and whether they may have been subject to a compliant environment sanction  
  1. Between 1948 and 1973, many Commonwealth citizens came to the UK, under successive pieces of immigration legislation. Some of these individuals, particularly those from Caribbean nations, have recently become known as the Windrush generation. In the spring of 2018, the media began to report stories of people who had come to the UK from the Commonwealth, being denied access to public services, being detained in the UK or at the border, or removed from, or refused re-entry to, the UK.
  2. Several reports by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration raised issues with the targeting of compliant environment measures generally, including the possibility that some people were being sanctioned who should not have been. In relation to Windrush specifically, a 2014 report called 'Chasing Status', by the Legal Action Group highlighted the potential adverse impact of compliant environment policy on certain groups, including Jamaican migrants who arrived in the UK before 1973. Caribbean ministers raised Windrush cases with the UK government at a ministerial forum in April 2016.
  3. Over at least the last 10 years the government has further reformed immigration according to the principle that the right to live, work and access services in the UK should only be available to those migrants who are eligible. This policy was known as the 'hostile environment', now known as compliant environment. Through the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts, the government introduced a range of checks and controls on migrants’ access to NHS health services, welfare benefits, driving licences and bank accounts. These were designed to prevent illegal immigration, remove incentives for illegal migrants to enter or remain in the UK and encourage them to depart.
  4. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.
  5. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 785 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services. Our work led to audited savings of £741 million in 2017.

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