Over 50 MPs, campaign groups and academics with an interest in human rights, migrant support and alternative finance have written to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, asking her to urgently stop harmful and ineffective banking checks due to come into force in January 2018. The checks are likely to lead to thousands of people being accidentally blocked from using banking services, despite being legally entitled to do so. This will disproportionately impact BAME communities and increase the vulnerability of many who are already in precarious positions.

JUST FAIR has joined No Borders In Banks and other groups and individuals to sign the letter that calls for the withdrawal of Schedule 7 of the Immigration Act 2016. The legislation, designed to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants, makes it a requirement for banks to carry out quarterly checks for ‘disqualified persons’ with the Home Office and the anti-fraud organisation Cifas.

Those found to be residing in the UK without permission will have their accounts closed or frozen, leaving them unable to carry out transactions or receive wages. The provisions came into effect on 30 October 2017 and the first checks are due to be carried out in January 2018 – meaning the Government only has a few days left to prevent this harmful measure from coming into force.

The letter raises grave concerns around high error rates by the Home Office in administering this legislation. A similar requirement raised under the 2014 Immigration Act led to an error rate of 10% – meaning significant numbers of individuals were barred from opening new accounts when they were legally entitled to do so. A former Board member of TSB has described the administration surrounding the checks as an “absolute nightmare.”

The proposed legislation will be most harmful to BAME communities. It risks leaving thousands unable to access their own money for extensive periods of time – exacerbated by the Home Office’s poor track record of dealing with complaints and appeals in a timely manner. The Immigration Minister, Brandon Lewis, recently confirmed that appeals could take up to a year when questioned by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Full letter text and signatories

FAO: Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for the Home Department

RE: withdrawal of schedule 7 of the Immigration Act 2016, closing or freezing the bank accounts of ‘disqualified persons’ for the purpose of immigration enforcement.

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to ask for the withdrawal of the requirements introduced on 30 October 2017 under schedule 7 of the Immigration Act 2016. We are very concerned to hear that banks and building societies will soon be required to check current account holders against a list of ‘disqualified persons’ and close or freeze the accounts of those recorded as residing in the UK without permission. These regulations and others introduced under the government’s ‘hostile environment’ strategy are inhumane and have no place in a compassionate society. There is no evidence to suggest that they will achieve the stated aim of encouraging people without regular migration status to leave the country, and good grounds to believe they will have a number of other damaging consequences..

A 2016 report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) that reviewed similar requirements introduced by the 2014 Immigration Act found that there was a high error rate for these checks. In a sample of 169 individuals who were prevented from opening a new account, 17 (approximately 10%) had the legal right to do so.

Despite assurances offered in the House of Commons that the data will be ‘subject to rigorous checks’, it is not clear that any improvements have yet been made to the Home Office’s database system since the ICIBI found that it was  “not always accurate, with both omissions and individuals wrongly included as ‘disqualified persons’ who had departed, or had succeeded in an appeal or had regularised their immigration status” (ICIBI, 42, 6.26).

We therefore have little confidence in the assurances that have been offered regarding data quality, and maintain that the new checks are likely to result in a similar proportion of accounts being closed in error. Mistakes are most likely to be made for individuals who already occupy a precarious position in society, namely those with complex immigration histories or ongoing asylum or residency cases. Losing access to banking services will make life in the UK even more difficult for thousands who have every right to be in the country, and the links between immigration status and ethnicity will mean that BAME communities will be disproportionately affected.

It is also a matter of grave concern that the legislation and accompanying guidance documents do not provide adequate avenues of complaint for those mistakenly affected, who are told to contact the Home Office’s generic complaints email address or phone number. These people will be unable to receive wages or carry out essential transactions during the administrative delay, and recent research suggests that the Home Office is not meeting its own targets with regards to handling complaints in a timely manner.

We stand in opposition to the outsourcing of border enforcement and to the denial of essential services to people without regular migration status. Such measures transfer the Home Office’s costs and responsibilities to sectors that are not able to execute them, and are premised on a fundamentally flawed assumption. Rather than encouraging people who are resident without permission to leave the country, losing access to banking services will force people in to cash-in-hand employment that will render them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. This government prides itself on its attempts to stamp out modern slavery and yet is creating exactly the conditions that allow unscrupulous employers to take advantage of vulnerable individuals.

For the reasons outlined above, we the undersigned ask that immediate steps be taken to withdraw schedule 7 of the Immigration Act 2016.

Signed,

No Borders in Banks
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham

Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale

Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton
Marsha de Cordova, MP for Battersea

Martyn Day, MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk
Preet Gill, MP for Edgbaston

Virendra Sharma, MP for Ealing, Southall
Jabeer Butt, CEO, Race Equality Foundation
Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director, Liberty
Aisha Dodwell, Policy and Campaigns Manager, Global Justice Now
Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
Owen Espley, Senior Economic Justice Campaigner, War on Want
Sondhya Gupta, Senior Campaigner, SumOfUs
Lucila Granada, Director, Latin American Women’s Rights Service
Lisa Matthews, Coordinator, Right to Remain
Fizza Qureshi, Director, Migrants’ Rights Network
Felix Kupay, Chair, Entraide (Mutual Aid)
Wayne Myslik, CEO, Migrants’ Resource Centre
Fred Ashmore, Clerk of the London Quakers
Anna Skehan, Specialist Children’s Immigration Solicitor, Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit (MiCLU)
Penny Wangari-Jones, Racial Justice Network
Helen Hibberd, Centre Manager, Hackney Migrant Centre (awaiting confirmation)
Aderonke Apata, African Rainbow Family
Dermot Bryers, CEO, English For Action
Monique Swaby, BME Community Development Worker, Croydon BME Forum
Rosario Guimba-Stewart, CEO, Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network
Adele Owen, Director, Gloucestershire Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers (GARAS)
Aidan Jolly, Virtual Migrants
Jessica Potter, Co-Chair, Medact Refugee Solidarity Group
Layla Ismail, Development Manager, Refugee Women of Bristol
Abi Brunswick, Director, Project 17
Ake Achi, Founder and Director, Right2Work UK
Peter Hall, Co-ordinator, Croydon Refugee Day Centre
Helen Hibberd, Centre Manager, Hackney Migrant Centre
Kim Bryan, Mid Wales Refugee Action
Fran Boait, Director, Positive Money
Brett Scott, author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance

Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director, The Equality Trust

Joel Benjamin, Debt Resistance UK
Tayieba Shah, Barnet Housing Action Group

Jo Ram, Campaigner, Platform
Neelam Rai, Campaigns and Movement Building Co-ordinator, People & Planet
Olivia Stewart, Joint Director, Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation

Elaine Chase, Senior Lecturer in Education, Health Promotion and International Development, University College London Institute of Education
Dr Koldo Casla, Research Associate at Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University
Maya Goodfellow, PhD candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant, SOAS
Nadine El-Enany, Senior Lecturer in Law, Birkbeck Law School, University of London
Daniella Lock, PHD Candidate and Teaching Fellow, Faculty of Laws, University College London

Ludovica Rogers, Research for Action
Sarah Keenan, Lecturer in Law, Birkbeck Law School, University of London
Against Borders for Children
SOAS Detainee Support
Homes Not Borders
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Just Fair
Voices that Shake!
Undoing Borders Campaign
MRANG (Merseyside Refugee and Asylum Seekers Pre & Postnatal Support Group)
Borderlands Bristol
Women for Refugee Women
Migrant English Project (Brighton)
Docs Not Cops
Manchester Migrant Solidarity
All African Women’s Group

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