‘I applied for a new passport and the Home Office came back to me saying they couldn’t find anything to prove who I am or that I’d been here since I was a child.
‘All of a sudden they started saying you’re an illegal immigrant. After all these years! I didn’t understand it. It’s as if they chucked paperwork away, got rid of records – like I didn’t exist anymore.
‘I was told to report to the Home Office; I wasn’t allowed to work; and I received a letter threatening me with detention and being forcibly removed from the UK. If anyone asked me anything to do with it, I’d burst out crying. I felt like an alien. I’d never want to feel like that again.
‘Because I wasn’t allowed to work or receive any social security, housing benefit and Universal Credit stopped. My rent arrears meant I was being threatened with eviction by the council. I was going to be evicted because they thought I was an illegal immigrant. When I had nothing, I went to the food bank. I felt terrible; I didn’t know what to do.
‘Eventually, with the publicity about the Windrush scandal, I phoned the special number. The Home Office told me to come in – I took a trolley load of documents and they looked through them, then they took my photo and fingerprints. Three days later I got a biometric card in the post.
But the Home Office still hadn’t confirmed Mary’s* UK status as a British citizen. A private solicitors’ firm said they’d act on her behalf to challenge the decision, but she couldn’t afford the expensive fees they charged. Mary came to a free community advice clinic at the Law Centre, and spoke to a volunteer lawyer.
‘I couldn’t find any way of paying any more money to the solicitors – I’d already had to pay £600 in instalments. The volunteer at the advice clinic said they knew someone in the Law Centre who might be able to help, and the immigration team took up my case. They made me feel hopeful because they took my case personally and wondered how it could ever have happened.
‘Because I was going to be evicted, a housing solicitor at the Law Centre, Paul, was helping me too. He represented me when I had to go to court and got it agreed that I had to pay £5 a week towards my rent arrears and I wouldn’t be evicted. My cousin said he’d pay the £5 for me by standing order, so that’s how I got to stay in my flat. Paul was really good because he took it quite personal too – like what was happening to me wasn’t right. I liked that.
‘Diane at the Law Centre was helping me as well, with my benefits. She was helping me to try to challenge that and get back my payments to pay my rent. She spoke to Universal Credit and they sorted it out and backdated most of my rent. It was a lot of help.
‘I had good people helping me. Thanks to them, I’ve got my certificate and my British citizenship ceremony. I’ve never left this country before but now I’ve got freedom to travel if I need to. I’ve got proper ID to go for a job. I feel really marvelous, really good.
‘I don’t know what I’d have done without the Law Centre to be honest. I was just glad I got introduced to the right people – it took a lot of burden off of me. I felt weary but it was worth it in the end. I’m just happy that it’s all over, and I’ll just try and live out the rest of my time happily.’
Mary was brought to the UK as a child in the 1970s, to join her mother who’d moved from Jamaica a few years earlier. After leaving school, Mary worked in catering and social care, mostly for agencies. In 2014 a new employer asked to see her passport, in line with the government’s new ‘hostile environment’ policy.
Then Mary was wrongly identified as ‘a person subject to Immigration control with No Recourse to Public Funds’. As a result, her Universal Credit payments were stopped, and she wasn’t allowed to work. WIthout an income, Mary was pulled into poverty – and told she needed to repay a Universal Credit overpayment of nearly £8,000.
Mary was supported by our Law Centre’s immigration, housing and debt advisers to help her defend her rights.
*not her real name