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TOEIC scandal: victim settlement scheme rejected

A decade after being accused of cheating, victims of the TOEIC scandal have launched renewed legal proceedings against the Home Office, seeking group compensation for unlawful detention and loss of earnings. 

Houses of Parliament across the River Thames in London.Photo: Pexels.

There was the view in the Home Office that foreigners were likely to be cheats, which is an absurd view which irreparably blighted many people’s lives

Bindmans law firm, representing a group of 23 students who have already won their appeals against the Home Office, proposed that the claims be grouped together in court, similar to the Windrush compensation scheme. 

However, the Home Office has said it is “too soon” for a streamlined scheme and is considering each case individually, “which is a much slower process”, Theodora Middleton solicitor of public law and Bindmans told The PIE

In 2014, the Home Office revoked more than 35,000 student visas after a BBC panorama investigation revealed “fake sitters” were being used in two test centres delivering the ETS exam required for visa renewals. 

While cases of cheating clearly happened in the Home Office approved test centres, thousands of students have been protesting their innocence for the past decade.

The 10-year anniversary of the documentary has sparked renewed media interest in “Britain’s forgotten immigration scandal”, in which at least 2,500 students were deported. Additionally, more than 7,200 left the country after being told they faced arrest and detention. 

The victims represented by Bindmans are seeking compensation for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, loss of earnings and damage to their mental health. 

“In all cases our clients have lost years of their lives: they’ve been unable to finish courses, amassed huge debts, made homeless, detained, removed or required to leave,” said Middleton. 

“It had a profound impact on clients’ mental health and relationships with family and friends which were damaged by the stigma. Even once people have cleared their names, it’s really hard to recover from the past decade,” she added. 

The Home Office has been heavily criticised for its handling of the scandal, which was based on evidence provided by ETS that 97% of all those who took the test between 2011 and 2014 were suspected of cheating. 

“There was significant cheating, no doubt about it, but the claim of 97% is ridiculous. One of the reasons it went so wrong is because no one queried it,” MP Stephen Timms, who has been lobbying the Home Office for nearly 10 years, told The PIE

“There was the view in the Home Office that foreigners were likely to be cheats, which is an absurd view which irreparably blighted many people’s lives,” said Timms. 

In 2019 a parliamentary inquiry found that the evidence used by ETS to accuse thousands of international students was “confused, misleading, incomplete and unsafe”. 

Many of the students were fluent English speakers and viewed the test as a simple requirement of renewing their visa.

Following the scandal, ETS asked the government to remove its Secure English Testing License and paid the Home Office £1.6m for breach of contract, which Timms said was a “derisory sum”, never intended to go towards compensating the victims. 

“The Home Office got close to introducing an arrangement for students to clear their names when Sajid Javid was Home Secretary in 2018 but then there was a government reshuffle and his successor [Priti Patel] wasn’t interested,” said Timms. 

“Given how long people have already waited for justice, we hope to reach agreement on group management of the claims soon, which should speed things up,” said Middleton.

A Home Office spokesperson said to The Guardian, “The 2014 investigation into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating which was indicative of significant organised fraud. Courts have consistently found the evidence was sufficient to take the action we did.” 

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