Renford said : "I’ve worked night and day, I’ve paid into the kitty – now no one wants to help me" he is referring to the fact that he has spent 35 years working and paying taxes as a tool setter, a delivery man in the meat industry and a National Health Service driver." For the past year, he has been homeless, mostly sleeping on a sofa in an unheated industrial unit in Dudle. With no shower and nowhere to cook, he has to visit friends if he wants to eat hot food or wash. “It’s an appalling place to live. I’m a proud man; I’m embarrassed at my age to be living like this.”
Back in 2014, a routine request from his last employers to update paperwork revealed that he didn’t have a passport and had never naturalised in Britain and as a consequence he was given the sack. Unable to find new work without papers, he became depressed and then homeless. Dudley council said he was not eligible for emergency housing because he had no right to be in the country and for the same reason he has been told he cannot sign on for state benefits.
With the support of the 'Refugee and Migrant Centre' in Wolverhampton, Renford gathered together paperwork showing 35 years of National Insurance contributions, but the Home Office has returned his application, requesting further evidence. “It makes me so angry. I’ve always worked. I’m a grafter. I can’t explain how bad it makes me feel.”
“Peabody wanted to see the passport that I came in with, but my mum had taken it. Immigration was swooping all over the workplace. My employers were told by the Home Office that they had to get rid of me, otherwise they would get fined. All I needed was for the Home Office to say I was legal, but they said I was an overstayer and I didn’t have status. I tried to argue they were wrong. I left my job in 2012.”
Before he was fired Hubert had been a trusted and highly regarded employee who had been with them for a decade. He found that the years he spent working as a maintenance worker for British Rail, a plumber and later as a senior caretaker for the housing association, and, like Renford, the tax he had paid over 35 years of working life, counted for nothing.
Older men and women like Renford and Hubert both have a legal right to stay in Britain because the 1971 Immigration Act gave people who had already settled in Britain indefinite leave to remain, but they have struggled to gather enough documents to convince the Home Office that they arrived before the cut-off point.
As Hubert said : “They basically messed up my life. I had a steady job. They took my job away, stating quite clearly I had no status in this country. It broke my heart losing my job with Peabody. It was the best job I was ever in. When my mum passed away, I wasn’t there, and I still have not been at her graveside."
“We don’t know how many there are, primarily because they are unaware of their status, or lack of it. Most believe that they are OK, that they are British. People are thrown into crisis when they find out. When you are in this situation you cannot get a job, health care, a place to live. It locks you out of the system.”
He said it was difficult for vulnerable, elderly residents to bring together the required evidence : “It is really for many a very traumatic process. Often, the family and friends who could vouch for them are dead. It is a tragic situation because technically the Home Office has the right to deport anyone they have reason to believe has not been granted the right to reside here. Missions from the regions are working with the Home Office to avoid people being forcibly removed back to islands they don’t recognise.”
New evidence of harsh treatment by the Home Office emerged this week when officials said they “now accepted” that Anthony Bryan, 60, who has spent five weeks in immigration detention centres, was in fact “lawfully present in the UK”. Anthony, a grandfather who has lived in Britain for 52 years, has had two spells in detention and was booked last November on a flight to Jamaica, a country he left in 1965, when he was 8 years old and has not visited since. A decorator, he lost his job in 2015 because, like Hubert, he was unable to prove he was not an 'illegal worker', and struggled to convince the Home Office of his right to be Britain until the Guardian highlighted his case last year.
Anthony interviewed on Channel 4 News : https://www.channel4.com/news/grandfather-of-seven-fears-deportation-after-decades-in-the-uk
Anthony said he was relieved but angry at his treatment, which has left him heavily in debt because he was prevented from working for almost three years :
“I told them I was eight years old when I arrived here, but nobody believed; they told me I was an illegal immigrant and a criminal. They locked me up unlawfully. It was very stressful. It has been a nightmare.”