In May, the National Audit Office (“the NAO”) published its report into the investigations that it had carried out into the establishment and administration of the Windrush Compensation Scheme (“the Scheme”) by the Home Office and the progress the Home Office had made since implementing changes to the Scheme in December 2020.
The NAO focussed its investigation on the operations of the Scheme and also the decisions taken by the Home Office in establishing and running the Scheme to date.
In its report the NAO makes it clear that it has not sought to assess the Scheme from a user/claimant perspective as a separate inquiry into the user/claimant perspective is due to be undertaken shortly by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
The NAO has also not examined the Home Office’s separate Windrush Scheme (or Windrush taskforce), which was designed to ensure that members of the Windrush generation receive documentation confirming their lawful status in the UK. Nor has it examined the wider progress made by the Home Office in implementing the recommendations of Wendy Williams’ independent lessons-learned review published in July 2018.
In our last blog we commented on the history and development of the Scheme, recent changes that have been made and the number of compensation claims and payments that have been made up to 31 May 2021.
In this blog I intend to look at some of the findings of the NAO and how they reflect on the establishment and future work of the Scheme and other redress schemes generally. They are as follows:
- The Home Office has spent £773,000 on engagement and marketing activity to promote the Windrush Schemes but continued to receive feedback reporting distrust – 140 engagement days with nearly 3000 attendees have been arranged however in the Summer of 2020 commissioned research carried out by the Home Office still identified the two main barriers to people applying to the Scheme were awareness and trust. Some of those who took part in the survey report that the Scheme was a way to “ round [people} up”. The Home Office has responded by running a series of grassroots campaigns and recruiting Community Ambassadors which has had a positive impact.
- When the Home Office launched the Scheme in April 2019, it estimated it might pay out compensation worth between £120 million and £310 million to 15,000 people – This was based on information available from the immigration systems and the 2011 census. In October, 2019 this figures was revised downwards to 11,500 with estimated payments between £60 million and £260 million. There is still a sense in the Home Office that these more recent assumption are still too high and they are currently under review.
- The Home Office has received 19% of the claims it estimated it might receive as part of the scheme – As of the end of March 2021 2,163 claims have been registered on the system, of which 80% were from individuals, 14% were from family members and 5% were on behalf of the estate of someone who had passed away.
- To the end of March 2021, the Home Office had paid £14.3 million to 633 people, although some of these people may receive further payments – The NAO also interestingly reports that 117 claimants have been told by the Foreign Office that they are not eligible for compensation under the Scheme and the Home Office has also decided that 210 claimants are not entitled to monetary compensation as they did not suffer losses.
- Between April 2019 and March 2021, the Home Office had a budget of £15.8 million to run the scheme and spent £8.1 million, of which £6.3 million has been spent on staff – The Scheme is costing much less than was budgeted for initially as claim numbers are low and they have used fewer staff than anticipated. It was estimated that the Scheme would need 125 full time caseworkers from the start (even though it was launched with only six), there are now 53 full time case workers in post but the Home Office is reluctant to increase the number of caseworkers as the individual and complex nature of claims means that it takes time for new staff members to get up to speed with the Scheme and its processes.
- It takes, on average, 154 staff hours to process a case through to payment approval, considerably longer than the Home Office estimated – When the Scheme was being established the Home Office estimated that it would only take 30 staff hours to process a claim received through to payment. Each application goes through 15 steps before payment of compensation is approved. This underestimation of the staff hours illustrates that in establishing the Scheme, the Home Office did not fully understand the fact that each claim would inevitably turn on the individual facts and unique circumstances of each claimant and that while the payment of compensation by the Scheme could be process driven, it would still require significant staff hours to be spent liaising with the claimants directly especially in circumstances where they are not legally represented.
- The quality assurance processes employed by the Home Office are not identifying all errors – The NAO found that of the cases that were subject to a quality assurance check, 50% had to be returned to a caseworker for further work. As of March 2021, the Home Office is aware of six over payments, totalling £38,292 in value. The NAO also says that it’s case file review also identified further inconsistencies in how case workers have calculated loss of income from employment, this finding supports the criticism in our earlier blog that claimants are complaining that payments made under the Scheme are unsatisfactory and do not fully compensate for the harm suffered.
In its concluding remarks the NAO says that the Home Office began receiving claims for the Windrush Compensation Scheme before it was ready to do so and was not meeting its objective to compensate people quickly until it implemented reforms in December, 2020.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “The Windrush Compensation Scheme was rolled out before it was ready to receive applications and two years after it was launched people are still facing long waits to receive their final compensation payment.”
While the NAO accepts that the Home Office has made some progress towards its stated objectives since that time it warns that the Home Office needs to sustain efforts to improve its operations and management systems if it is to ensure that it fairly compensates the Windrush generation for the harm they have suffered.
The Windrush Compensation Scheme was it seems introduced by the Home Office somewhat prematurely but with the best of intentions. What lessons can be learned by Governments setting up similar compensation and/or redress schemes?
For a compensation and/or redress scheme to be successful it should have clear and simple objectives, which will in turn inform the design and implementation of that compensation and/or redress and it must not lose sight of the rights and needs of the people that it serves.