Author: Amelia Gentleman
The government has paused a wide range of hostile environment policies in the wake of the Windrush scandal to prevent more people who have lived in the UK for over 30 years from being “erroneously impacted by compliant environment measures”, the home secretary has revealed.
Officials had already announced that some policies had been suspended in the wake of the of the scandal, but Sajid Javid acknowledged that he had paused a comprehensive programme of “pro-active data sharing” between different government departments in order to prevent those from the Windrush generation being wrongly hit by measures designed to combat illegal immigration.
For a period of three months, officials will not share data from HMRC, the DWP and DVLA with the Home Office, halting these combative measures introduced in 2014 as part of what the government previously termed the hostile immigration environment.
Meanwhile, the Home Office has issued documentation to 2,125 people who contacted the Windrush hotline, confirming a right to live in the UK; of these 1,014 were born in Jamaica, 207 in Barbados, 93 in India, 88 in Grenada, 85 in Trinidad and Tobago and 638 were from other countries. In June 584 people were granted citizenship through the Windrush scheme, Javid informed the home affairs select committee, in a formal update on the fallout from the Windrush scandal.
More than 150 staff have been redeployed by the Home Office to work on the department’s Windrush historical review, going through files to check how many people may have been wrongly deported (the figure currently stands at 63, but staff are checking that number), how many were prevented from re-entering the UK after travelling to the Caribbean and how many were wrongly detained.
Home Office staff are only in touch with 14 people who were wrongly deported, and no details have been given about their nationalities or about whether any of them had been allowed to return to the UK; Javid only said that they were “in discussion with the taskforce”.
Chair of the home affairs select committee, Labour MP Yvette Cooper said she was disappointed that there was still no clarity about the number of people wrongly detained and that the Home Office had “still not managed to make contact with the majority of those who were wrongfully deported or removed”.
She called for a hardship fund to be set up immediately for Windrush victims in need of immediate financial assistance. Javid acknowledged at the select committee hearing on Tuesday that some funds were available for people in dire need, but did not make it clear how they should go about requesting help.
The Windrush scandal has already led to several key changes in the immigration system, with ministers announcing in May that they were suspending arrangements under which the NHS shared patients’ details with the Home Office, which had been designed to assist staff to trace people suspected of breaking immigration rules. The government suspended “with immediate effect” a memorandum of understanding under which NHS Digital, the health service’s statistical arm, shared 3,000 NHS patients’ details with the Home Office last year so people’s immigration status could be checked.
The Home Office had already revealed that it was going to suspend immigration checks on thousands of bank accounts, another key element in the hostile environment policy, designed to make life difficult for visa-overstayers or illegal immigrants. Officials had “significantly restricted pro-active data sharing with banks and building societies,” Javid said.
In order to check that these policies were not wrongly capturing those who are entitled to live and work in the UK, Javid said Home Office staff were working out the best ways of “evaluating the effectiveness of the compliant environment to ensure it is effective, and that there is no adverse impact on individuals who have a right to be here and to access those services”.