Users of a special hotline set up to help Windrush generation Britons have been left feeling “very upset and afraid”, an MP has claimed, as questions mount over whether the service is failing to help people who are anxious about their citizenship status.
Gill Furniss said the line was “failing to deliver” on its mission to help people who came to the UK in the 1950s and 60s from the Commonwealth, some of whom are now being denied access to state healthcare, housing and have lost their jobs.
The Labour MP said her office had taken at least two Windrush immigration cases, and claimants told her office they had called the hotline and had been asked to provide extensive documentation, and had mixed messages in promises made by Home Secretary Amber Rudd and their experiences when calling the hotline.
Rudd set up the hotline on April 16 to help those impacted by the scandal resolve their immigration status, but it has prompted data gathering fears and has been criticised for making claimants feel like it is their responsibility to prove their right to remain, despite having lived here in the UK for decades.
The hotline has received 3,800 calls, the Home Office has said, with 1,364 identified as potential Windrush cases to be called back.
It said 600 call backs had taken place, with 91 appointments booked as of Wednesday.
Furniss told HuffPost: “Amber Rudd had made it very clear that this is something that people should have every confidence to ring up, and that they would be given every help to actually prove the case. Not: ‘Here you are, the onus is on you to sort it out’.”
One claimant, who is now working with Furniss’s office to resolve their case, called the hotline after being denied a passport.
She was asked to produce a “list of information”, Furniss said, including her parents’ passports, school records, medical records “and so fourth... and she was just absolutely shocked... she did feel very upset”.
Furniss added: “This seemed like a golden opportunity but (the claimant) did feel like she was not been treated fairly or in the spirit of the promise that Amber Rudd had made.”
Rudd has defended the hotline, and said on Monday: “A new customer contact centre will be set up to make sure that anyone struggling to navigate the many different immigration routes can speak to a person and get appropriate advice.
“The centre will be staffed by experienced caseworkers who will offer expert advice and identify a systemic problem much more quickly in the future.”
The Windrush generation arrived in the UK shortly before the passing of the British Nationality Act, which automatically gave them the right to remain.
Many have since been treated as illegal immigrants because they are unable to provide evidence of their right to remain – a problem compounded by the Home Office destroying thousands of their landing cards.
As a result of days of uncertainty around the hotline and who is manning the phones, an immigration lawyer currently representing a number of claimants suggested anyone calling the line should first seek legal representation.
Diana Baxter, a lawyer at Wesley Gryk Solicitors, said initially hotline calls were not being answered by Home Office staff, with call-centre workers taking messages so claimants could be phoned back by case workers.
Baxter said the people answering the calls “don’t really know or understand” the cases or the concerns of the callers. She questioned the Home Office advice to callers, which says they don’t need legal representation.
“It is certainly easier for me (to call the hotline) because I know what it is that I’m asking for and how to direct the conversation.”
Chai Patel, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, has also suggested claimants seek legal representation before calling.
Baxter said she is now backing calls for the re-introduction of legal aid, which was cut for immigration cases in 2013, in order to help Windrush claimants to get the help they need to resolve their immigration status.
“Experience tells us that the Home Office doesn’t always get decisions right and although they are going to be trying harder with this ... you can’t always trust that, that is going to be the case.”
The Home Office is yet to reply to a request for comment.