IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Electrician’s life was ruined by government passport scandal

Home Office took away ‘dignity’ from man who was left sleeping in car parks

30 October, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Francis Lawson lost his home and his job after a Home Office mistake

AN electrician who won compensation for unfair treatment from the Home Office’s Windrush Taskforce, this week thanked an Islington charity for saving him from destitution.

Francis Lawson was left in limbo for a year without access to public funds, because of a Home Office mistake.

He was wrongly classified as an illegal immigrant, according to a report by the parliamentary ombudsman published on Monday.

It said the Home Office’s actions resulted in the 48-year-old losing “dignity and autonomy” as it ordered the government department to pay Mr Lawson £5,000 in compensation.

Mr Lawson was brought to the UK on his uncle’s passport from Nigeria in 1970 when he was eight.

He ran away from home aged 16, but by his 30s he was a home-owner and a manager at a factory in west London.

However, he lost both his home and job as a result of being wrongly classified by the Home Office in 2014.

He told the Tribune that it suddenly felt like there was an “invisible black X” against his name.

Eventually, he was found sleeping in a car park by outreach workers.

He was brought to the Shelter From the Storm centre in Holloway.

He told the Tribune: “It was a respectful place which had clear rules. They were my friends and they treated me well. I want to thank them with more than just words if I can.

“They helped me avoid a complete mental breakdown.”

After the Windrush scandal broke in 2018 the government was forced to apologise for wrongly categorising thousands of legal residents as people who did not have the right to live in the UK.

The Windrush Scheme was set up to compensate victims of the so-called “hostile environment”.

Mr Lawson applied again for settled status in May 2018 through this programme.

His case was passed to the UK’s Visa and Immigration (UKVI) Windrush Taskforce which aims to provide a response within two weeks.

It was also around this time that he contacted Islington South MP Emily Thornberry who took up his case.

More than three months later, the taskforce concluded that they would reject Mr Lawson’s case because he could not prove he had been living the UK before the 1980s.

The passport, which proved his entry to the UK in 1970, had been stolen along with other important documents.

Mr Lawson did not receive notice that his case was rejected for a further 11 months, the ombudsman report said.

This, the ombudsman said, prevented Mr Lawson from taking alternative steps to resolve his immigration issues and barred him from accessing benefits.

After this he provided more evidence of his right to stay in the UK, and the Home Office has now made a “reasonable grounds” decision under the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which states that he is a potential victim of modern slavery.

The ombudsman recommended that UKVI “apologises sincerely to Mr Lawson for the injustice caused by its actions” as well as paying the compensation.

Mr Lawson said: “My plan is to go and retrain. I want to use the money to do that.

“I can’t wait to get back to work. Before this nightmare started I had been working for 22 years. I told my friends at SFTS that the next time they see me I will have transformed my life. That is my plan.”

Ms Thornberry said: “This proves yet again that there are people that have great difficulty just getting what is their right. The treatment he has received was appalling, just disgraceful.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “This appli­ca­­tion under the Windrush Scheme was refused and the decision has been upheld following independent review.

“UKVI apologises for the delay in issuing a decision.”

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