Ombudsman finds failings at UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) as Windrush claimant waited over a year before getting a decision.
Mr R applied to remain in the UK via the Windrush Scheme in May 2018. Mr R had his own house and was a qualified tradesman. Since 2014, he has lost everything, being unable to provide documents which prove he has lived in the UK since before 1973. Mr R told the Ombudsman he feels worthless, broken and with no hope or prospects.
Waited over a year for application to be refused
Later in May 2018, Mr R had an appointment with UKVI, who told him it would take six weeks to get a decision. In fact, he waited over a year and did not receive a decision until August 2019. His application was refused.
UKVI stated that this was because it was unable to find any Home Office records to confirm Mr R had entered the UK before 1 January 1973. It accepted Mr R had been continuously resident in the UK since 1986, but said there was no record of him having settled status, or of having been resident before that date.
The Ombudsman's investigation
The Ombudsman investigated the case after Mr R made a complaint. We found that the Windrush Taskforce had gathered all relevant evidence by September 2018. At that stage it proposed to refuse his application and advise him of next steps.
The Ombudsman found no reason for the subsequent 10-month delay, during which time Mr R was destitute and had no other way to resolve his immigration status. Had UKVI responded in a timely manner, Mr R would have been able to appeal the decision earlier or seek to settle his immigration status another way.
The Ombudsman also found that UKVI gave incorrect advice to Mr R when they told him that he would be able to claim benefits while waiting for their decision. Mr R was unable to prove his immigration status and had not previously been claiming benefits, so this was not the case. The Ombudsman found that UKVI should have been aware of Mr R’s eligibility. Their misleading advice gave him false hope at a time of immense financial and mental stress.
Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said:
"A person who has lived in the UK for decades has been treated with indifference by his own Government - a shocking example of what happens when we fail to recognise the dignity of all members of our society.
"We encourage anyone who has complained about their treatment under the Windrush Scheme to come to us via their local MP if they are not happy with the response they have received.”
Mr R’s MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade Emily Thornberry, said:
"It is appalling that this man, who was particularly vulnerable, remained homeless for more than a year due to disgraceful delays on the part of the Home Office. The hostile environment has caused enormous hardship, and the Windrush scheme has let so many people down – the Home Office should be ashamed of themselves.
"It is encouraging that the Ombudsman is recommending not only compensation for Mr R, but better communication and avoidance of delays to help all those affected by Home Office failings."
Recommendations to put things right
The Ombudsman has made recommendations to UKVI which include compensation to reflect the material and emotional distress caused to Mr R, as well as a full apology.
The Ombudsman has also made a range of systemic recommendations to help UKVI improve its openness and accountability in communicating with the people who come to it for help.