Homeless Windrush veteran from Finsbury Park battled to get biometric card and benefits
PUBLISHED: 16:54 15 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:54 15 August 2018
A homeless army veteran from Holloway who is part of the Windrush generation has told of his battle for an ID card and benefits – after the government dubbed him an “illegal immigrant” and drove him into hiding.
Michael Callender, 60, came to the UK in 1970 on a Commonwealth passport and has lived in and around Finsbury Park for 40 years.
But he claims the Home Office persecuted him, the police wrongly arrested him, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) delayed paying him Universal Credits until July 7, despite Michael getting a biometric residence card two months earlier.
“The government is always going to be hostile to people like me,” Michael told the Gazette. “They don’t like people like us and the system in this country is designed to work against some people.”
In 2007 Michael visited his native Barbados with his son, Roman, but when he returned his passport was stamped “no recourse to public funds” and “leave to enter two months”.
Michael alleges he was then arrested and held in Hornsey police station in 2008 after he was flagged up to cops for being an “illegal immingrant”.
Michael says he was released within 24 hours and told to prove his right to remain. But he had always believed he was a British citizen and says he didn’t know how to prove himself to the Home Office, so he decided to go into hiding – for a decade.
It was only when the Windrush scandal broke this year and Michael went to the Home Office premium service centre on May 8 that he was granted “no time limit status” and given a biometric residence card.
On the same day Michael was arrested by cops at the Home Office centre in connection to a theft, of which he was later cleared.
A Met Police spokesperson said: “Police were called to the Croydon Premium Service Station after an immigration officer carried out a check and Michael Callender was found to be wanted for a theft offence, alleged to have taken place on June 23, 2015. Police arrested him and he was interviewed and charged with theft.”
The case was dropped at Blackfriars Crown Court on June 6 but Michael claims this was yet another example of the system working against him.
Michael’s MP is Labour leader and Islington North stalwart Jeremy Corbyn, who wrote to the Home Office on his behalf and said: “I am told he spent the night in a police cell and was left considerably distressed. I am very concerned to hear of Mr Callender’s experience.”
The DWP also inexplicably cut off Michaels access to social security, leaving him “destitute and struggling”.
The Gazette approached the DWP for comment earlier this month, only for them to pay Michael the benefits he was due later that day,
Michael said: “All I want is the basic things for my survival. I just want to work an look after my family. Is that so hard?”
Micheal joined the army on his 15th birthday and served in Northern Ireland from 1975 to 1978. But he said: “I served my country and I’m sure the government know that, but it hasn’t made any difference to how I’ve been treated. The system isn’t made to work for people like me.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The experiences faced by some members of the Windrush generation are inexcusable. The home secretary and the immigration minister have said that they want to give the Home Office a more human face and it is a priority to right the wrongs that have occurred.”
They added: “We have set up a fast-track service between the taskforce and Department for Work and Pensions to swiftly confirm the status and residence of people from the Windrush generation and arrange access to benefits and documentation.”
Michael also told the Gazette he has struggled to get onto Islington’s waiting list. A second letter from Mr Corbyn sent on his behalf urges the town hall to “consider this matter with a view to assisting Mr Callender in accessing local housing” and says Michael, after his previous attempt to get help, “feels the necessary support and assistance has not been forthcoming”.
But an Islington Council spokesperson said there was no record of the first meeting. “Mr Callender contacted us for the first time [on Tuesday] and met one of our housing officers,” he said. “A further meeting will be arranged with him to discuss his housing options and any further help and assistance we can provide.”