The Home Office has signed a legal agreement with the equalities watchdog forcing the department to rectify its failure to comply with equality law when implementing its hostile environment immigration measures.
The agreement commits the Home Office to a two-year plan of improvements, designed to ensure that lessons are learned from failures in the department that led to the Windrush scandal.
A damning Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report last November found that the Home Office broke equalities law when it drew up new immigration legislation, “repeatedly ignored” the negative consequences of its policies and had a “perfunctory” approach to complying with equality legislation.
The report said the Home Office’s failure to comply with the public sector equality duty (PSED) as it developed and implemented the hostile environment meant it “neglected to fully consider the impact its policies would have on black members of the Windrush generation”.
The Home Office was required by the EHRC to launch a review of its hostile environment measures – now known as compliant environment policies – to ensure they comply with equality legislation, particularly with regard to race.
The legal agreement requires the Home Office to demonstrate that it has a clear understanding of the potential and actual impact of its work on different protected characteristic groups.
Kishwer Falkner, the EHRC chair, said: “The experiences of the Windrush generation must never be repeated and must never be forgotten. They serve as a stark reminder of the importance of adhering to equality laws so that no one has to suffer such unjust treatment.
“When used properly, the PSED is vital in ensuring all public services work effectively for all of their users, regardless of background. By effectively ignoring it when implementing the hostile environment measure, the Home Office’s actions had a profound effect on many people’s lives.”
The legal agreement was not made public, but an EHRC spokesperson said it committed the Home Office over the next two years to showing that it properly considers evidence and feedback from stakeholders representing affected groups and is taking active steps to understand the equality impacts of its policies and practices.
If the Home Office does not adhere to the terms of the agreement, the EHRC can apply for a court order requiring the department to comply.
Chai Patel, the legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said he remained concerned about the department’s determination to hold on to the core structure of hostile environment.
“The Home Office is pushing through radical changes that destroy our system of refugee protection while upholding the hostile environment. [The home secretary] Priti Patel continues to ignore every expert voice warning of the consequences for vulnerable and discriminated against groups,” he said.
“We welcome this legally binding agreement, which gives the Equality and Human Rights Commission enforcement powers to hold the Home Office to its equalities duties, as this is one of the only avenues to hold the Home Office to account.”
The home secretary and the department’s permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, issued a joint response saying: “The Windrush generation were repeatedly failed by successive governments and we have been resolute in our determination to right the wrongs that they suffered.
“We are pleased to have agreed an ambitious action plan with the EHRC which builds on the work we are doing in response to the Windrush Lessons Learned review. We will continue to work closely with the EHRC on delivering the action plan to ensure mistakes like this never happen again.”