Crowdfunders help homeless lorry driver get back to work

Cecil Hayes
Photo of Cecil Hayes, courtesy of Mandie Sewa

A crowdfunding campaign to help a homeless lorry driver get back to work has raised more than £1,000 within a week.

The campaign was launched last week by Mandie Sewa, an immigration lawyer helping Cecil Hayes with his case pro bono, to raise enough money to apply for an identification card from the Home Office.

Hayes, who turns 62 next month, came to the UK at the age of 11 to join his parents, who were working in the country at the time. He was given indefinite leave to remain, an immigration status that allows a person to live, study and work in the country without restrictions or a time limit, which was manifested as a visa on his Grenadian passport.

His problems started last December when Tesco, his employer at the time, asked for his passport during a routine check of its employees. When he went back to his home in Northumberland Park, his passport was missing. Hayes had no photocopies of it, and his national insurance number and driver’s licence were deemed insufficient forms of ID. He has no photocopies of his visa stamp, and his records are unlikely to be in the system as visa records in the 1960s have not yet been computerised.

Faced with a potential fine of £20,000 for employing someone without a valid passport, Tesco had no choice but to let him go. They told him, however, that he could return as soon as he has his documents.

“I couldn’t pay the rent, because no money was coming in, they [my landlord] booted me out,” Hayes told the Hackney Post via phone. “And that’s how I became homeless.”

“I just want to get my papers so I can get back to work,” Hayes said. “I wasn’t burdening the government. I never did.”

Cecil Hayes
Photo of Cecil Hayes, courtesy of Mandie Sewa

Getting Hayes his right to stay has not been an easy task. Ms Sewa first wrote to the Home Office late last year for a subject access request, which provides information the government holds on Hayes. She has not received a response from the Home Office.

Ms Sewa now hopes to build a narrative of Hayes’ life in the UK from a paper trail. She has written to HMRC, and Hayes’ schools, doctors and banks for evidence of his life in Britain.

Ms Sewa told the Hackney Post that so far she has received confirmation only from Haverstock School in Camden, which said that Hayes was a student from 1966 to 1971, but that she is confident that she will hear from the others in due course.

Once she has sufficient information, she hopes to present Hayes’ case to the Home Office so that he can claim a biometric residence permit. A BRP would serve as an ID document and indicate his immigration status, effectively replacing his lost passport and visa. Only a BRP — and his passport — would allow him to return to work.

Hayes is now staying at the Hackney Winter Night Shelter, which provides hot food and temporary accommodation to homeless people and runs from November to the end of March. With the programme ending soon, Ms Sewa hopes that the extra funding from the crowdfunding campaign will help Hayes find accommodation.

Cecil Hayes crowdfunding campaign
Mandie Sewa’s message to donors on her crowdfunding campaign. Source: Mandie Sewa/JustGiving

“I just want to get him back in a place he’s used to being in,” she said. “He’s not someone who’s been homeless for a long time, he’s not someone who’s got dependencies or addictions — he’s nothing like that. He’s just an old man who fell on bad circumstances.”

Hayes has family in the country, but says he doesn’t want to bother them. “My family, they’ve all got their own families and are doing their own thing. They have no room for me to stay, so I had to go homeless,” Hayes said. “I literally had no choice because I didn’t want to burden them with my problem.”

“It’s a living nightmare for me.”

Hackney MP Diane Abbott is aware of the situation, Ms Sewa said.