Home Office considers complaints examiner after scathing ombudsman report

By on 08/06/2021
The UK Home Office could introduce an independent complaints examiner (ICE) after a scathing report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. Credit: Philafrenzy/Wikimedia

The UK Home Office could introduce an independent complaints examiner (ICE) after a scathing report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, which found that a ‘Windrush generation’ UK resident was wrongly threatened with deportation after 50 years of living legally in Britain.

The report looked into the case of Rupert Everett, a UK resident since 1962 who had his passport impounded and driving licence revoked, and was threatened with forcible removal in a four-year ordeal. He died in 2019 without receiving an apology or compensation, and his case was taken to the ombudsman by his daughter. 

“It is particularly sad the last years of [Everett’s] life were characterised by a distressing struggle to validate his right to remain in a country he had the right to live in,” the report says. “The injustice to him caused by the maladministration we have identified, was extremely serious.”

Maladministration

The ombudsman found maladministration in three areas of the Home Office’s treatment of Everett. These included: in decision-making, “where relevant considerations were not taken into account”; in record-keeping around his status, decisions around his case and his evidence; and in complaint handling, where there was a delay and “a failure to attempt to put right what had gone wrong”.

In response to the problems highlighted around complaints, the Home Office said it is working to improve both signposting for and the complaints process itself.

The Home Office also confirmed it was “looking into” introducing an ICE following the ombudsman’s report, but it was too early to publish any details. An ICE model would be likely to resemble those introduced in other departments including the Department for Work and Pensions, whose ICE oversees maladministration complaints in 12 organisations including the Child Support Agency and Jobcentre Plus. 

The ombudsman’s report notes that the department had told it that both these changes would be a “progressive cultural step” that would make it “better at treating their customers with respect”.

Mr Everett’s case

Everett’s treatment is the latest to emerge in the long-running Windrush Scandal. He was among thousands of other Caribbean nationals who were granted indefinite leave to enter the UK between 1948 and 1973. Yet poor record keeping by the Home Office and its “hostile environment” policy from 2012 led actions such as people being deported, threatened with deportation, detained or denied services. The UK government apologised in 2019 and pledged to reform its immigration services.

Everett’s ordeal began in March 2015 when he applied for a permanent status document. He then withdrew the application so he could travel to Jamaica. On his return he was contacted by Capita, the contractor working on behalf of Immigration Enforcement, and told he was residing in the country illegally and should make preparations to leave. The ombudsman found that there were no grounds to ever contact Everett.

This was followed up by the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement unit, with a letter giving Everett “notice of liability of removal”’ and warning his “life would become increasingly difficult” if he refused to leave. Later, his passport, which contained his ILE stamp, was impounded; and on another occasion, his driving licence was revoked. He was finally given his ILE status back in 2016, after providing national insurance records going back decades.

Eight months later, in 2017, he applied again for a permanent status document and was met with obfuscation from UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI), including demands – which went beyond its own guidance – to see paperwork going back decades. He was granted the document.

In 2018 Everett was asked to apply for British citizenship under the Windrush scheme. He did so, and was told he had to provide evidence of residency in the UK from 1962 to 2001. He was finally granted British citizenship in August 2018, after providing three passports and his full national insurance record.  

He then made a formal complaint in 2018 over his treatment. The UKVI took over 6 months to respond, despite having a 20-day target. It failed to respond to his extensive points, and the issue was still unresolved when Mr Everett died in 2019.

Among its recommendations, the ombudsman said Everett’s daughter should receive an apology and £10,000 within six weeks. It also wants UKVI to report back to the Home Affairs Select Committee on the “lessons it learned”, and to feed into the Wendy Williams’ review into the Windrush Scandal when she reviews Home Office progress in September.

Ombudsman Rob Behrens said: “A well-loved father and grandfather spent the last years of his life in severe depression and anxiety because he was being wrongfully pursued and threatened by Immigration Enforcement. UKVI failed to adhere to its own standards. It should acknowledge the distress it has caused and make sure cases like this are not repeated.”

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