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House of Commons Hansard
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Windrush Compensation Scheme
09 April 2019
Volume 658

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on the Windrush compensation scheme.

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Righting the wrongs done to the Windrush generation has been at the forefront of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s priorities. Last week, on 3 April, she made a statement to this House setting out the detail of the compensation scheme and announcing that it is now open to claims.

The Government deeply regret what has happened to some members of the Windrush generation and the launch of the compensation scheme marks a key milestone in righting the wrongs they have experienced. The scheme will provide payments to eligible individuals who did not have the right documentation to prove their status in the UK and suffered adverse effects on their life as a result. These could range from a loss of employment or access to housing, education or NHS healthcare, to emotional distress or a deterioration in mental and physical health.

Information on the scheme is now available. The claim forms and guidance notes can be found on the gov.uk website or requested from the freephone helpline. The scheme rules and caseworker guidance were also published online on 3 April. The helpline is already receiving calls and claim forms are being sent out. The Home Office has also started a series of engagement events. The first event was held in Brixton last Friday and the next event is scheduled for Southampton this Friday.

In due course, we will publish information on the scheme through our existing monthly reports to the Home Affairs Committee, including information on the number of claims submitted, the number of claims paid and the overall amount paid out by the scheme.

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I should not need to remind anyone in this House that the Windrush scandal is a national disgrace. At least 11 people who were wrongly deported from the UK by their own Government have died. At least 164 British citizens were wrongly deported or detained. Home Office officials have told the media that 15,000 individuals may have been harmed by the contempt that their Department showed.

Last week, one year since the scandal broke, the Home Secretary finally announced the compensation scheme, to begin the process of reconciliation for the Government’s grievous errors. The Home Secretary apologised again, on behalf of the Government, for the failings and repeated his promise to do right by the Windrush generation. Crucially, he told members of this House:

“There is no cap on the scheme”

and

“it will be based on people’s needs”.—[Official Report, 3 April 2019; Vol. 657, c. 1048.]

His words seem to have provided false reassurance.

In the response to the Windrush compensation scheme document that the Home Secretary brought to this House, there was no detail of caps. Instead, that was quietly published online in a separate compensation scheme rules document, slipped out later on 3 April. MPs therefore had no chance to scrutinise or question the truth that his Department had set out incredibly strict caps to be awarded for different losses—a £500 payment for legal costs incurred; £500 for people who had been denied the chance to go to university; £1,000 for those wrongly obliged to leave the country under a so-called voluntary return scheme; and a mere £10,000 for people who were wrongly deported. Victims have correctly described these payments as “peanuts” and “insultingly low”.

I say to the Minister: £10,000 is less than one Secretary of State’s gross salary per month. Is that all that a person will have lost if they have been locked up, if they have been deported, if they have been made homeless, because £10,000 is all that they would get from her Department? Is this all it costs someone to be denied access to their family and friends for years or decades—to their own country? Is this the price that you put on my constituents being deported for no wrongdoing and nothing that they have themselves done? Is this how this Government value the lives of black Britons? I say to the Minister: you promised to do right by the Windrush generation, but quite rightly many of them think that they have been misled.

Let this be the final betrayal of the Windrush generation. Scrap the caps, and compensate them properly for the wrongs that have been done to them.

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He is of course right to emphasise how important it is that we right these wrongs. I would like to give some further explanation. It is important to reflect that while we have worked very closely with Martin Forde to establish both the tariff-based scheme and actuals, so where people could evidence specific losses, they would be reimbursed for those losses, actually these different heads of claim, which can be claimed for, need not be in the singular but can be cumulative. There is also a discretionary category, which will enable people to claim for other losses, not necessarily identified within the scheme, which is uncapped. [Interruption.] The detail is provided in the scheme online, but it is important to reflect that while there is a tariff set at £10,000 for somebody who was wrongly deported, of course that could be in conjunction with other parts of the claim, which could add up to significant sums in addition to that.

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In addition to the Windrush compensation, can my right hon. Friend say when we will see pay-outs for the Chagos compensation scheme, which was set several years ago at £40 million to that exiled community over 10 years?

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My hon. Friend will be conscious that this urgent question is about the Windrush compensation scheme, but he will no doubt be reassured to hear that last week, when I met high commissioners from across the Commonwealth, that issue was raised with me, and I will be working closely with Home Office officials to update him on that.

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Ooh, it is very striking to see the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) beetling off together. It is almost certainly a conspiracy—but probably a conspiracy in the public interest, I feel sure.

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I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this important urgent question.

The whole House knows that the Windrush generation was let down by successive Governments, Labour and Conservative, but with this derisory compensation scheme, the Windrush generation has been let down once again. I draw it to the attention of the House that although I did get early sight of the Home Secretary’s statement on 3 April, I was not provided with early sight of the scheme rules, and I appreciate the opportunity to question the Minister on them today.

This scheme compares very unfavourably with the criminal injuries compensation scheme, whose awards are aligned with compensation for loss under common law. Claimants are also allowed a statutory right of appeal of awards. They are also allowed legal aid for those appeals. None of that is true in any meaningful sense in the case of the Windrush victims. How can the Minister possibly justify that?

The Opposition believe that the Home Office must pay for losses actually incurred. For instance, claimants will be paid just £1,264 for denial of access to child benefit. It is easy to quantify what people would have lost altogether. Why cannot they get that exact sum of money back, plus interest? There is only £500 for denial of access to free healthcare. It is easy to quantify how much people had to spend when they had to access private healthcare. Why cannot they get that money back?

On awards, the scheme provides compensation for detention. However, in the false imprisonment case of Sapkota v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, the courts upheld three common law principles. First, detention is more traumatic for a person of good character. Secondly, a higher rate of compensation is payable for the first hour. Thirdly, historic damages awarded in precedent cases must be adjusted and uplifted to present-day values. The deputy High Court judge in that case awarded Mr Sapkota £24,000. This proposed scheme provides nothing like those common law damages.

The amounts offered for wrongful denial of access to higher education are pitiful. The scheme offers just £500, but all the research shows that the lifetime benefit of access to higher education is counted in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds.

This scheme is shoddy, unfair and unjust. Ministers did not make all the information available to Her Majesty’s Opposition when we were able to respond to the scheme. Some might say—I will not say it—that Ministers were attempting to conceal the reality of the derisory nature of their scheme. Above all, the Home Secretary said there was no cap. These tariffs are a cap. We are asking Ministers, even at this late stage, to review these unfair tariffs, remove the cap, and give this generation the justice they deserve.

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I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments, but given that the rules and guidance were published on the same day as the Home Secretary made the statement, it is somewhat unfair to suggest any attempt to conceal the scheme. Far from it: we have sought to publicise the scheme and to reach out to posts across the world with a selection of communication tools, and we invited high commissioners into the Home Office last Thursday to emphasise the scheme to them.

I will comment briefly on the published Home Office ex gratia scheme that was already in place and to which the Home Office and Martin Forde referred when considering this scheme. The ex gratia scheme provides a maximum £1,000 for someone who has been wrongfully deported. In arriving at the £10,000 figure for deportation, the Government considered that alongside the case law evidence of courts awarding a range of damages subject to individual case details. We regarded £10,000 as a more appropriate figure than the £1,000 in the existing scheme, which has been in place for many years.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the scheme of review. We have put in place a two-tier review: first, an internal review, whereby someone who is not content with the original decision can have it referred to a senior caseworker who was not involved in the original decision; and, secondly, independent of the Home Office, another tier of review will be considered by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs independent adjudicator.

With regard to caps on payments, this scheme is both tariff and actuals-based. The right hon. Lady raised the issue of those who might have been denied NHS care, where the tariff scheme involves an award of £500. However, if an individual incurred private healthcare costs, the actuals will of course be repaid. The Home Office is determined to work with its own information and with data held by other Departments and indeed by individuals more widely, so that we help claimants to establish their actual level of loss, where that is the most appropriate route.

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I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on granting this urgent question, and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on tabling it. I commend the Minister for her work on the scheme; it is one that I very much welcome. How accurate are press reports that up to 600 people may have made false or fraudulent claims to the scheme?

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It is absolutely right to reflect that the scheme has been open only for very few days so far, but we have received claims, registered them and sent out claim forms, which we are expecting back. I am not aware of any fraudulent claims to this scheme, and I am very conscious that we have put in place a rigorous process, which will enable all claims to be assessed fairly and indeed with full rigour. It is important to reflect that the Home Office is determined to work with individual claimants. There may be cases in which Home Office data enable us to assist people to determine the level of claim, and we are absolutely determined to do that.

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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this important urgent question. It is imperative that the victims of the Windrush scandal are compensated justly for the terrible treatment that they endured.

I was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights which took evidence from two of the victims of this disgraceful scandal. Anyone who heard their testimony about the effect of wrongful detention, and of years of persecution and threatened deportation, would regard some of the amounts in this scheme as derisory. After a year-long wait for the compensation scheme, it is disappointing that it has serious flaws, some of which have already been enumerated by others. It seems to be a great deal more mean than was suggested by the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box, when he said that there would be no cap on the scheme. A cap, however, has clearly been introduced through the back door by applying internal caps on pay-outs, which will equate in effect to caps on how much individuals receive.

As has been said, some of the pay-outs under the scheme are wholly unacceptable: £250 per month for people who were rendered homeless as a result of that unjust treatment; or a maximum award of £500 for legal affairs. The Home Secretary refuses to compensate people for the full cost of immigration law advice; he claims that they do not need legal advice to make an immigration application. Any of us who deal with immigration matters in our constituency surgeries knows that not to be the case. Those of us who study closely the Home Office files of the individuals who gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights will tell you that only with the assistance of lawyers did they manage to disentangle themselves from this mess.

Is it not time for the Home Secretary to admit that removing legal aid from immigration matters was a huge error? The Government must fully compensate those of the Windrush generation who had to pay out of their own pockets to defend themselves against that state injustice. Will the Minister accept that the minimal pay-outs under this scheme will achieve nowhere near justice for such people? Does she agree that, if the Government were truly serious about rectifying the wrongs of the scandal, they would look at this scheme anew and scrap the hostile environment, which already threatens to have the same impact on European Union citizens applying for settled status.

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I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her questions. She commented on the long wait for the scheme. She will of course recognise that not only did we appoint Martin Forde as an independent adviser to the scheme, but he came to the Home Office to ask for additional time, so that the consultation period could be open for longer. More than 1,400 responses were received to the consultation, and it was absolutely right to give adequate time for the responses to be considered carefully and thoroughly.

The hon. and learned Lady will be aware that the scheme includes both a tariff category and actuals. It is important to reflect that, where actuals have been accrued, the Home Office seeks to reimburse people through those fees. However, we recognise that it may be hard for people to provide evidence of actuals, which is why it was so necessary to put a tariff scheme in place as well, so that people would not be dependent simply on being able to provide the evidence.

The hon. and learned Lady made a wider point about the complexity of the Home Office’s immigration scheme. She will no doubt welcome the consultation on that being carried out by the Law Commission. If she has not already done so, I hope that she responds to that consultation before it closes, which I believe to be imminent.

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Out of darkness can come light, and I therefore welcome today’s announcement, which builds on the earlier announcement and progresses the whole issue of compensation for those badly affected in the Windrush immigration scandal. In the Immigration Minister’s report, I particularly welcome paragraph 4.18, which clearly lays out compensation for employment, and 4.20, which does the same for benefits. I have one constituent—possibly two, but one definitely—who will deserve compensation in both those categories. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm news about the telephone hotline and tell us how our constituents may access help with application forms, which can be a challenge, for the older generation especially?

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My hon. Friend is right to point out that claim forms can sometimes be difficult and onerous, for the elderly in particular. We deliberately designed the form after speaking to members of the Windrush generation, so that the language used was as simple and straightforward as possible. In addition, we made provision with Citizens Advice, so that it can assist people with their claims. Individuals from my hon. Friend’s constituency of Gloucester need only make contact with the helpline—I understand that the average wait time for an answer last week was just 18 seconds. His constituents should make contact with the helpline and they might then be referred to Citizens Advice, which will be able to provide assistance with making a claim.

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I too congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this important urgent question. Compensation is just £1,000 for those individuals who were forced to leave this country under the so-called voluntary return scheme because they were unable to prove that they were justifiably able to reside here. Many people received letters from the Home Office warning them that they would need to leave the country because they were here illegally. How can the Minister justify paying compensation of only £1,000 to those who were forcibly removed from the country?

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The hon. Lady is right to point out that serious wrongs were done to members of the Windrush generation. That is why we set up the Windrush taskforce and put in place a compensation scheme, which was designed with the assistance of our independent adviser, Martin Forde. I recognise her, but it is important that we reflect on the advice that we were given and seek to have a scheme that is fair.

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I welcome the urgent question from the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), whom I congratulate. I understand why the scheme is in the form that it is, but does the Minister agree that what is most important is that the end result is seen to be fair, particularly to those mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), the people whom we saw in the Joint Committee on Human Rights and who were detained unjustly for considerable lengths of time? Does the Minister agree that the end sum—adding all these bits together—should be seen in the eyes of the public as fair for what people in those circumstances have been through?

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I commend my hon. Friend for his work on the JCHR; I certainly recognise the moving and compelling testimony that the Committee listened to during the course of its inquiry. It is absolutely right that we reflect on the advice that we have received, that we seek to make the scheme as fair as possible, and that we put in place a scheme that can respond quickly and efficiently to claims. That is why we will have a taskforce that will be 120 strong at full complement. We have also made provision for individual claims for compensation to be split, so that the quick and easy parts of the claims to assess can be split off and paid immediately.

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The report of the Public Accounts Committee highlighted that this scandal does not stop with the Windrush generation, but that thousands of other Commonwealth citizens are affected, and my own caseload bears that out. When the Home Secretary came before the House to make his statement, he was not specific about whether the Home Office would go through the lists of people, identify those who could be affected and proactively contact them. Will the Minister either make that commitment today or acknowledge that the Home Office systems are just not fit for this purpose?

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My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary did make it clear last week that the scope of this scheme is not limited to Caribbean nationals and that almost all Commonwealth nationals who arrived before 1 January 1973 will be eligible to apply. It is important that we are working across the Commonwealth to highlight and emphasise to the high commissioners and our posts the wide cohort of people who will be eligible to apply, so that they can work with those people and claims can be settled.

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I have previously raised the issue of the role for those affected in helping to design the scheme. Now it is in operation, will there continue to be a place for that input?

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My hon. Friend makes a really important point. Last week, the Home Secretary hosted an event for those affected, which was also attended by Wendy Williams, who is conducting the review, and Martin Forde. I was particularly struck by a number of individuals I spoke to who emphasised the need for continuing outreach, and that is why we are holding a programme of events across the country. Martin Forde has on many occasion reflected to me that this is about building and rebuilding trust, and I am particularly grateful to all those who have helped us to reach out to members of the Windrush generation so that we can try to do exactly that.

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I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for requesting it. Does the Minister feel that £1,000 is an appropriate minimum award for injury to feelings in order to compensate black Caribbean people who felt that they were forced to leave this country and, indeed, left this country? These people have experienced many emotional traumas, including the loss of sleep, anger, fear, trepidation, loss of appetite, loss of earnings, vulnerability, fear and ongoing feelings of depression. Is that minimum fee of £1,000 just compensation?

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As the hon. Lady pointed out repeatedly, that is the minimum amount. Of course, the table of actuals and tariffs very clearly emphasises that there are sections for impact on daily life, with a range of awards, and for discretionary circumstances, where there is no cap. It is really important that we work to ensure that we reflect the impact on people’s daily life and on their mental wellbeing, and I believe that this scheme enables us to do that.

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Will the Minister acknowledge that one of the causes of the Windrush scandal in the first place was the disproportionate level of documentation from many years ago demanded by the Home Office to enable individuals to exercise their rights? It is rapidly becoming clear that the same mistake is being made in relation to this compensation scheme, so will the Minister urgently review not just the compensation cap that we have heard about, but also the scheme’s documentary requirements, so that no one is denied compensation due to missing documents from past decades?

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We have sought to have a scheme that is based on both tariffs and actuals, so that those who cannot provide evidence will be able to go down the tariffs route and not be expected to provide the evidence that those going down the actuals route would be able to provide. As I have already said, the Home Office wants to work with claimants to ensure that where evidence can be found—either from within Home Office records or from other Government Departments—we do exactly that, so that people are supported to get the compensation to which they are entitled.

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Detaining innocent people and threatening them with deportation is not only wholly unacceptable; it is dehumanising. The treatment suffered by my constituent, Paulette Wilson, was absolutely appalling. Why did the Government not come clean about these caps last week when we were in the Chamber questioning the Home Secretary? And how on earth did the Government come up with the figure of £500 per 24-hour period for the first 30 days of detention and £300 per 24-hour period for the subsequent 60 days? How were these amounts arrived at?

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As I am sure the hon. Lady will have heard me say, the amounts were arrived at in consultation with our independent adviser, Martin Forde, and by looking at both the ex gratia scheme that was already in place at the Home Office and at case law. She is right to say that detention is absolutely wrong for those who have no reason to find themselves in that situation. I have apologised to her constituent, Paulette Wilson. One can only hang one’s head in shame at the way in which the Home Office treated not just Paulette Wilson, but too many individuals of the Windrush generation. We are still ashamed of what happened and are desperately trying to put things right via this scheme.

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My constituent kept close records; his loss of earnings is over £50,000 and his solicitors’ fees run into the thousands. But this 59-year-old, who had previously worked all his life, has had his mental health so severely damaged by the failings of this Government that he now cannot hold down a job. First, will the Minister tell me exactly how people are supposed to provide actuals for jobs that they were not allowed to have? Secondly, given that my constituent is unlikely to work again, what provision is there within the compensation scheme for future loss of earnings?

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The hon. Lady is right to point out the severe impact on individuals of the Windrush generation. As I said previously, the Home Office is determined to work alongside HMRC, which will have evidence of previous earnings and the earnings level at which her constituent would have been, and to work with him through his own evidence. She indicated that he had kept close records through HMRC to ensure that he is properly compensated. As I mentioned earlier, there is also a discretionary element to the scheme that in some instances may well provide redress that is not otherwise identified in the tables.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and I are meeting constituents from Windrush families this Saturday, and I think there will be very considerable interest in the engagement events that the Minister mentioned, so it would be helpful to know whether she can provide local MPs with details of when these events might be coming to our areas. Due to the deep mistrust and scepticism about the Home Office, there may be reluctance to supply full information to enable a cost-based claim to be submitted, so will the Minister guarantee that there will be a firewall in place to ensure that any data supplied for the purpose of seeking compensation under this scheme is not used by the Home Office or any other Government Department for other purposes?

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Absolutely, I am happy to give that commitment. The hon. Lady makes an important point about the importance of outreach and of building trust. I am absolutely determined to do what she has asked and to provide information to hon. Members across the House of when there will be outreach events in their constituencies or close by. I recognise that, in the case of Manchester, a number of Members are close by. We will certainly provide that information.

As I mentioned, in many instances it is those from the community who can provide the greatest reassurance. I was struck last week when talking to two gentlemen from Birmingham by the emphasis they put on the work that their charity does in supporting individuals. I have taken a close interest in that and looked to see how the Home Office can provide additional assistance to such individuals, who provide such a useful bridge between Home Office officials and the community.

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The first engagement event on the Windrush scheme took place on Friday in Brixton, just outside my constituency. It was called at just a day’s notice, it was not publicised systematically and I received an email late on Friday evening informing me of the event. That is simply not meaningful engagement and, frankly, it does not treat the community affected by the scandal with respect.

The application form requires a very high level of proof—for example, receipts from hostel accommodation used when someone was made homeless. That is comparable to the burden of proof that led many Windrush citizens to be wrongly denied their rights in the first place. Will the Minister agree to review the scheme to ensure that it works for Windrush citizens, is accessible to all and delivers the justice and recompense to which they are entitled? Will she undertake genuinely meaningful engagement, properly publicised, in the communities that are most affected?

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The hon. Lady makes an important point about the publicity surrounding events and the importance of doing it in a meaningful way. I am conscious that we have a schedule of events planned, but I am never happy when I think that information is provided at too short notice. I will undertake to ensure that that does not happen and that not only Members but affected members of the community are given adequate information about when events will take place.

We designed the application form and scheme in consultation with members of the Windrush generation, and we sought to make the form as straightforward as possible. Of course, there are sections that will be relevant to some claimants and not to others. I certainly hope it is clear that people are not expected to fill in every single section of the form. Where they are asked for evidence, that is if evidence is available. The Home Office is determined to work alongside individuals to ensure that where evidence is not available, people are assisted either to find it or directed towards the tariff route, where evidence will not be required to the same extent. It is important that we get the balance right, but the hon. Lady has made some important points that we will certainly take on board.

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I have been in correspondence with the Home Office for almost a year about the case of my constituent, Bobbi Vetter, who came to the UK as a baby 54 years ago and has lived nowhere else but the UK. Last year, she was offered a job in Oban but could not prove residency for a six-year period while she was here—a time when she was having and raising her children. Bobbi was unable to take that job and has been forced to live on universal credit. What compensation will Bobbi be entitled to? Will the Minister resolve to look at Bobbi’s case urgently to right this terrible injustice?

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I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to stand at the Dispatch Box and indicate a level of compensation for his constituent, but I will very happily take away the details of the case, if he will provide them, and look into it.