Midland Heart fights to clear 'debt' of Windrush tenant
When 73-year-old customer Neville applied for a passport in 2016, he never expected to be told he had to prove he officially existed and had a right to live in the UK.
The application sparked off an investigation by the Department of Work and Pensions, resulting in a fraud team going to his home, letters threatening bailiff action and his benefits being cancelled and backdated 12 years, leaving him owing almost £100,000.
“It was a nightmare,” said Neville, who lives in Birmingham. “I’ve lost two stone in weight from all the worry. When I was told I had to prove I existed or pay back all this money - money I didn’t have, had no hope of having - I cried.”
Neville came to the attention of Midland Heart’s Money Advice Team when, left with just £50 a week to live on, he quickly racked up rent arrears of over £2,000.
Money Advice Team Manager Tracey Chisholm looked into his horror story, discovering that Neville was one of thousands of immigrants known as the Windrush generation invited to the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries.
He had arrived in England from Jamaica in 1959 aged 16 to join his mother who was already working here. He attempted to continue his education but encountered racism on his first day at school and never returned, so got a job in a factory.
“His story was far, far bigger than having rent arrears,” says Tracey. “So we took his case on. We arranged for him to have legal advice from a solicitor in Coventry specialising in immigration matters – and when he couldn’t afford the train ticket, we bought it.
“We helped out too with pre-paid cards towards his electricity and gas bills and as he grew thinner and thinner we bought food.”
Tracey spent many hours on the phone to numerous Government departments and other agencies to try and unpick the red tape and gather the evidence Neville needed to prove he had a right to live in the UK.
“It was challenging because his original passport had been lost. He had a UK driving license that he had used to confirm his identity without a problem but he hadn’t worked consistently so his HMRC employment records were sketchy. He had two National Insurance numbers which confused matters, but luckily, his GP was supportive and we were able to get his NHS number confirmed. It was a long and difficult journey and hugely stressful for him.”
In July 2018, more than two years since his nightmare began, the Home Office granted a Certificate of Naturalisation, the all-important document that proves entitlement to live in the UK.
“The next step is to get his benefits and pension credit repayments backdated to 2004. I am 100 per cent confident that will happen but everything takes time,” added Tracey.
Gary Hardy, Director of Housing Operations, said: “This story is an excellent example of how our award-winning Money Advice Team advises and supports customers and how that often involves working outside the box.
"We could have limited our action to dealing with the rent arrears but we took on the source of the problem and Tracey’s professionalism and tenacity in dealing with the bureaucracy of this case is commendable. I have every confidence she will get the right outcome for our customer.”
Now aged 75, Neville said of his experience: “I don’t have the words to describe what Tracey and Midland Heart have done for me. It’s been a very frightening and stressful time. I was always so up, so positive. Now I’m down.
“Tracey has been like family; I see her as a daughter. I am more than grateful.”
* the name of our customer has been changed to protect his identity