When the Windrush scandal got personal

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Chloe Robinson

Praxis caseworker Chloe Robinson first met Albert after he had been made homeless

Albert Thompson became the focus of the Windrush scandal when he was told he’d have to pay £54,000 for cancer treatment unless he could produce documentation proving his right to remain in the UK.

Praxis Community Projects – a charity that Metropolitan’s Migration Foundation helps fund – supported Albert and brought his case, and the cases of those like him, to wider public notice. We talk to Praxis about its involvement.

How and when did Praxis first become aware of Albert’s case?

Last July, he was referred to us for legal advice by homelessness charity St Mungo’s.

How would you describe his situation at the time?

Albert had been street homeless for about three weeks. He had no evidence of his identity/status. He was temporarily accommodated by St Mungo’s and supported by them. His situation got worse when, a few months after our first meeting, he was refused cancer treatment because he was wrongly categorised as ‘undocumented’.

What help were you able to provide?

We contacted various agencies (HRMC, Home Office, DWP) to obtain evidence of his residence and status in the UK. The Home Office had no record of him which, in our experience, is quite common for people who came to join their parents here decades ago [a teenage Albert came from Jamaica in 1973]. HRMC records showed that he had lived and paid taxes since the Seventies, but this wasn’t enough for him to be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain.

When we heard he had been denied cancer treatment [November 2017], we immediately referred him to a solicitor for advice and to challenge this decision.

How did his case become the focus – in the media and in Parliament – of the Windrush row?

At the beginning of 2018, we contacted Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman, who had published a few articles telling the stories of people like Albert – long-term residents who suddenly found themselves unable to work, rent a property, access welfare and public services because they were unable to provide evidence of their legal residence in the UK.

She interviewed Albert and we provided her with the evidence and expertise we had developed through our frontline work. She was able to show that Albert’s story was emblematic of a much bigger phenomenon. In particular, Albert’s story showed how the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy – purportedly put in place to deter undocumented migrants from accessing services and ultimately living in the UK – was affecting lawful residents too.

We knew Albert’s story wasn’t an isolated case because we had supported more than 100 people in similar situations since 2015.

What was the outcome of Albert’s case and what part did Praxis play in achieving this?

Over the course of two months, Albert agreed to be interviewed by a wide number of media outlets, including the BBC, Guardian, Daily Mail and ITV. Praxis coordinated the media work, was present at the interviews and made sure that Albert received the support he needed. Praxis’ CEO Sally Daghlian was also interviewed by many outlets. He was given a date to start NHS treatment in April.

Albert and Sally spoke in Parliament on 1 May at an event chaired by David Lammy MP. They were able to voice their concerns with other politicians, journalists and members of the public.

Following the media attention and political outrage that surrounded his case, Albert finally started his cancer treatment in early May. Concurrently, his migration case has been resolved by the Home Office and he is now finally recognised as lawfully living in the UK.

Are you still in touch with Albert?

Yes – we speak with him at least once a week.