The Home Office will “not rush” compensating Windrush victims, the department’s new top civil servant said, despite concerns the slow progress could see some die before a payout.
Permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft told MPs staff were “determined” not to make mistakes in handling the applications under the “complex” scheme.
Speaking to the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday, he said: “We are determined to take our time, not to rush, not to make mistakes, and to ensure that everyone in the end gets the full compensation to which they are entitled.”
Chairwoman Yvette Cooper said this was a “concern” after out of four cases raised with the Home Office by the committee over two years ago, two of the people had since died “before they can get any kind of payment or compensation or any redress for the injustices that they faced”.
The team would work “as fast as the circumstances permit”, Mr Rycroft added.
Fewer than 5% of claims made so far have been paid out, according to the latest figures.
This equates to £362,996 for 60 people, including one payment in excess of £100,000, during the first year of the compensation scheme, official figures show.
Some 1,275 claims were made by the end of March, with the number received by the department decreasing each quarter since it launched.
MPs were told the average length of time it had taken to provide the 60 victims an offer of compensation was “under nine months”.
The overall average amount of time people were having to wait to go through the process was “under eight months”, second permanent secretary Shona Dunn said.
Officials were initially unwilling to provide the averages, which Ms Cooper described as “basic factual information”.
Ms Dunn warned the figures were “potentially extremely misleading”, adding: “Those figures are not verified, they come from raw internal management information.
“They are not figures that we wish anyone to rely on or to draw any conclusions from.”
She could not say how many cases had been waiting for more than a year for a decision.
Neither permanent secretary was able to tell the committee what progress had been made in hiring an independent adviser to oversee the compensation scheme – a plan first mooted in February.
Mr Rycroft joined the Home Office on March 23 – the day the country was told to go into lockdown and five days after Wendy Williams published her damning review into the Windrush scandal – having moved from the same post at the Department for International Development following a 30-year career in the civil service and diplomatic roles.
Among a catalogue of concerns raised in the report, Ms Williams found the department had a culture of disbelief, ignorance and thoughtlessness at the time of the scandal.
But Mr Rycroft told MPs: “Already we are seeking to shift the culture”, adding: “We are all educating ourselves on questions of race” and insisting that openness and transparency was “key”.
He listed several “weaknesses” identified since joining the department which he was seeking to change, including the need to “reset relationships between ministers and officials”.
But he praised the department’s 35,000 civil servants, saying that they were doing an “absolutely fantastic job, many in extremely difficult circumstances”, and dismissed suggestions they may be “incapable” of being retrained.
Although he feared “defensiveness” among officials when he took on the role, he said he had seen “quite the opposite.”
Ms Dunn, who has worked in the department since October 2018, told MPs: “I do not perceive a problem between ministers and senior civil service of this department.”