What Is The Windrush Compensation Scheme?
Between 1948 and 1971, around 500,000 people from Commonwealth countries came to the UK to help address post-WW2 labour shortages, encouraged by the British government.
The first people to arrive came from Jamaica on the HMT Empire Windrush ship in 1948. They — and the hundreds of thousands who followed them — became known as the Windrush generation.
At the time, there was no legal distinction between Commonwealth citizens and British citizens when it came to living and working in the UK. All had the same rights.
But UK government failings led to many people of the Windrush generation being wrongly detained and even deported decades after they arrived. They were also denied access to healthcare, employment, housing, and other basic services.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- Why the Windrush Compensation Scheme was set up
- How the Windrush Compensation Scheme works
- What this means for the Windrush generation and their families in 2023.
What is the Windrush scandal?
In 1962, the government introduced the first immigration restrictions on Commonwealth citizens. But the Windrush generation generally retained the same rights they had before. These rights were also preserved in the Immigration Act 1971.
But the Immigration Act 1988 removed many of them. If Commonwealth citizens left the UK for 2 years or more, they would lose their indefinite leave to remain. Wives and children could no longer join their husbands and fathers living in the UK.
Why was the Windrush Compensation Scheme set up?
Further immigration acts in 2014 and 2016 introduced identity controls for people from overseas. Landlords, employers, banks, and healthcare providers had to check these before providing services.
People now needed to provide documents to prove they were entitled to use these services. But in many cases, people had arrived years or even decades earlier, and no longer had these documents. Some people — the children of the Windrush generation — never had them to begin with.
The UK government didn’t address this problem. Instead, they systematically and wrongly identified many people as illegal immigrants, denying them access to the most basic services, including housing and healthcare. According to Amnesty International UK:
“The Home Office has lost records. It has also refused or failed to check records it does have to confirm people’s status. Other government departments may have relevant records too. Most significantly, the Home Office is responsible for introducing changes to immigration policy – the introduction of biometrics and the later expansion of immigration checks dependent on these.”
Reports suggest at least 83 people were wrongly deported as a result.
What is the Windrush Compensation Scheme?
The Windrush scandal came to light in 2018. A year later, the UK government established the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
The Windrush Compensation Scheme is a government-funded scheme set up to compensate people who were affected by the Windrush scandal. It’s designed to repay those people who suffered losses and other impacts as a result of the government's immigration policies.
Who can apply to the Windrush Compensation Scheme?
The Windrush Compensation Scheme rules state that the scheme is designed to:
“Compensate individuals who have suffered loss in connection with being unable to demonstrate their lawful status in the United Kingdom.”
That means if you or a close family member lost their job, home, or access to healthcare as a result of these policies, you can claim compensation. You can also claim for emotional distress linked to the Windrush scandal.
Eligible people include those who:
- Arrived in the UK from a Commonwealth country before 1973
- Are now settled in the UK and arrived from any country before 31st December 1988
- Are the partner, child, brother, sister or parent of someone who could not prove their right to stay in the UK
- Represent the estate of someone who has died but would have been eligible to claim.
Can grandchildren apply to the Windrush Compensation Scheme?
Unfortunately grandchildren aren’t eligible to apply for compensation under this scheme.
How much can you claim from the Windrush Compensation Scheme?
The amount you can claim depends on your circumstances, including the specific losses you experienced.
Different levels of compensation are available depending on what you’re claiming for. The main compensation categories include:
- Loss of employment — up to £25,000
- Loss of access to healthcare — up to £10,000
- Loss of access to housing — up to £10,000
- Emotional distress — up to £100,000
How does claiming compensation work?
You can apply by email or post. Just download the relevant form from the gov.uk website.
The Home Office’s Windrush Help Team can support you to complete and submit your application. They’ll assist whether you’re in the UK or applying from abroad.
When your claim has been processed, you’ll receive a compensation offer. You can reply to accept the offer, or request a review if you’re unhappy with it.
Improving the Windrush Compensation Scheme
The scheme was set up in 2019. At this time, the Home Office estimated that 15,000 people would be eligible. But according to official figures, only 1,467 claims have been paid up to February 2023.
A working group set up in 2021 has made several recommendations to improve the Windrush Compensation Scheme, making it more accessible. These include:
- Moving the scheme away from the Home Office to an independent non-government organisation
- Funding legal representation for people who want to make a claim
- Making correspondence easier to understand and giving claim progress reports
- Including pension losses as a compensation category
- Offering more compensation for those who have or had been made homeless
- Raising awareness of the scheme among affected communities
- Making the review and appeals process more efficient.
Share with your community
Money can’t rectify the stigma many people feel at being made to leave their homes or denied access to basic services. Nor can it build trust in a government that’s repeatedly failed to protect you and your community. But it can go some way to helping you build a better future for yourself and your family in the UK.
If you’re eligible and you haven’t yet made a claim, consider applying to the Windrush Compensation Scheme. You can also share this information with other people in your community who may not be aware of the scheme, or whether it applies to them.
If you’re unsure if you’re eligible to apply for the Windrush Compensation Scheme, contact the Windrush Help Team.