UK: Wrongful detention cost £21m as immigration staff chased bonuses

Yet more evidence of the rot within the Home Office’s approach to immigration:

The Home Office mistakenly detained more than 850 people between 2012 and 2017, some of whom were living in the UK legally, and the government was forced to pay out more than £21m in compensation as a result, officials have revealed.

Figures released to the home affairs select committee this week show there were 171 cases of wrongful immigration detention in 2015-16, triggering compensation payments totalling £4.1m, and 143 cases in 2016–17, triggering a further £3.3m in compensation.

Between 2012 and 2015 a total of £13.8m was paid out to more than 550 people after a period of unlawful immigration detention.

The document also reveals that bonuses were paid to both senior and junior Home Office staff according to whether targets for enforced removals from the country had been met. Some staff were set “personal objectives” on which bonus payments were made “linked to targets to achieve enforced removals”.

The detention figures give no detail about who was mistakenly held, although it is likely that these numbers contain some Windrush individuals who were wrongly sent to immigration removal centres or prisons ahead of deportation.

Cases are known of Windrush individuals who were nearly deported, such as Anthony Bryan, who was sent to an immigration detention centre last December and booked by Home Office staff on a flight back to Jamaica, a country he had not visited since he was eight. A last-minute intervention by an immigration lawyer meant his seat on the flight was cancelled and he was released from detention.

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has promised to provide figures next month for how many Windrush people were wrongly put in immigration detention; he has already acknowledged that 63 Windrush people were deported in error.

At least 10 people were paid about £120,000 each in compensation in the past two years although the majority of payouts were £20,000 or less, the permanent secretary to the home office, Philip Rutnam, explained in a letter to the home affairs select committee chair, Labour’s Yvette Cooper.

A small number of individuals who were wrongly detained received just a nominal payment of £1. Compensation is determined in part on an assessment of the “initial shock” experienced by those detained and is based also on whether the individual had any criminal convictions.

Some of those who received compensation payments were living in the UK legally. Other compensation payments were made to people who had no leave to remain in the UK but who had been detained for too long.

Rutnam, the most senior Home Office official, tried to minimise the significance of the numbers detained mistakenly, noting that this represented a small proportion of the total detained under immigration enforcement measures.

“By way of scale comparison, to support enforcement of the UK’s immigration law over 27,000 people are detained each year under immigration powers, with up to 3,000 people detained in either the detention estate or prisons at any one time,” he wrote. “Ninety-five per cent of people who are liable to removal are managed in the community, rather than in detention.”

But Labour’s Stephen Doughty, who sits on the home affairs committee, said: “These figures expose what many of us have warned for months: that the government has been wrongfully locking up individuals as well as wrongfully deporting others.

“The immigration system needs root and branch reform. How are millions of EU nationals to have any confidence in a system that wrongly deports and locks up people?”

The letter also gives details of performance targets in place for enforced removals from the UK, noting that these were in operation as early as 2000 (under Labour) and continued after 2010 (referred to in a variety of different ways – sometimes as “objectives”, or “business goals” or sometimes simply as “levels of ambition”).

Rutnam acknowledges that civil servants working within immigration enforcement received performance bonuses for good work, some of which is related to removals. In 2016-17, 23% of people working in immigration enforcement received an end-of-year bonus.

Confusion over whether removals targets were in place led to the previous home secretary Amber Rudd’s resignation in April, when she said “that’s not how we operate” in response to questions from Cooper over removals targets. Rudd said later: “I wasn’t aware of specific removal targets. I accept I should have been and I’m sorry that I wasn’t.”

Rutnam indicates that targets will no longer be in operation for deportation, noting that Javid has said he wants to “take stock on targets overall” and “specifically that he does not believe in quantified targets for removals and this, of course, is the basis on which we will be proceeding in the future”.

Source: Wrongful detention cost £21m as immigration staff chased bonuses

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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