Home Secretary Amber Rudd was facing further pressure over her handling of the Windrush scandal tonight after the hotline her office set up to deal with victims was strongly criticised by a Yorkshire MP.
Gill Furniss, whose team has been in touch with the Home Office helpline on behalf of a number of Sheffield constituents who face uncertainty over their legal status, described the experience of using the new service as “troubling”.
The claims came as Ms Rudd, who has faced calls to resign over the unfolding scandal, told MPs of her “bitter regret” at failing to grasp the scale of it sooner.
Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP Ms Furniss claimed staff operating the helpline, which was set up earlier this month in the wake of the controversy over the fate of the ‘Windrush generation’ of migrants, incorrectly told constituents her office hadn’t previously been in touch about the cases.
She said operators then demanded the constituent hand over a list of documents including parents’ passports, school records and even medical records.
In one case, she said the Home Office claimed a constituent could only be given a work permit as she was already a British citizen, when in fact they needed help because they had previously been denied citizenship.
Ms Furniss told The Yorkshire Post: “I regret that it is becoming clear the processes in place to deal with the Windrush cases are not effective or efficient. This is causing further anxiety to those affected.
“Amber Rudd assured Parliament and victims of the scandal that the process will be simple and easy to use so that all the cases be dealt with in an appropriate matter. This is not happening. She must now seriously now consider her position as Home Secretary.”
The creation of the helpline is one of a number of measures outlined by the Government to help members of the Windrush generation, who arrived in the UK after World War Two from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the UK government.
Earlier this week, the Home Secretary said UK citizenship fees and language tests will be waived for the Windrush migrants and family members facing an uncertain future due because of changes in immigration rules.
I regret that it is becoming clear the processes in place to deal with the Windrush cases are not effective or efficient. This is causing further anxiety to those affected.Sheffield MP Gill Furniss
Today, Mrs Rudd told MPs she had become aware of there was a “potential issue” over the “past few months”, but “didn’t see it as a systemic issue until very recently.”
Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee, she said: “I bitterly, deeply regret that I didn’t see it as more than individual cases that had gone wrong that needed addressing.”
The revelations have prompted fresh criticism of the Government’s “hostile environment” policy, introduced while Theresa May was Home Secretary, to tackle illegal immigration.
Emphasising that those affected by the Windrush affair were in the country legally, Ms Rudd, who said she preferred the phrase “compliant environment”,
The Home Office says so far there have been 3,800 calls to the helpline, 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 yesterday.
A spokesman said: “The Home Secretary has been clear that we have no intention of making anyone who has the right to remain here leave.
“We don’t want people who have built their lives here in the UK and contributed so much to our society to feel unwelcome or to be in any doubt about their right to remain here.
“Those calling the phoneline simply need to provide some brief initial information and they will then receive an urgent call back from an expert caseworker.
“Our absolute priority is to deliver the best possible rapid, reassuring service for anyone who felt they may have been affected.”