WHAT DO YOU MEAN MY BANK ACCOUNT IS FROZEN?
Introduction of new immigration checks on UK Bank accounts
If you are currently living in the UK without an appropriate visa you may soon find your bank account frozen or closed if you are unable to prove you have the right to live in the United Kingdom.
On 21st September 2017, legislation was laid before parliament confirming the duty on banks and building societies to freeze or close current accounts operated by illegal immigrants or overstayers in the UK.
Status checks are already required on anyone opening a new bank or building society account under the Immigration Act 2014, but no measure previously required banks to take active measures to identify existing accounts of those who are in the UK unlawfully.
The difference is that from 30th October 2017 when the legislation comes into force banks and building societies are to carry out immigration checks on in excess of 70 million current accounts as recently reported by the Guardian Newspaper
The exercise may not take place before January 2018. However, the point is to create an even more “hostile environment” for individuals who are or remain unlawfully in the United Kingdom. It follows the “right to rent” checks now required by landlords on tenants which are already in place.
Through this exercise, it is expected that the Home Office will identify a substantial number of people who have overstayed their permission to remain in this country.
Banks and building societies will be required to check the identity of every current account holder against a Home Office database held by Cifas, a not-for-profit fraud prevention membership organisation. The supplied list will contain details of individuals whom the Home Office regard as liable for removal or deportation.
The Guardian reported that the checks will be carried out quarterly, and the accounts of those identified will be closed down or frozen “to make it harder for them to establish or maintain a settled life in the UK”. However, what is most concerning is the fact that there is no guarantee that this new system will be effective especially as so many illegal immigrants are often paid cash in hand. Is it possible that such a move could simply drive illegal immigrants even further into a “hidden economy” and leave millions of pounds unaccounted for?
And what will happen to those migrants who do have a right to be in this country but fall victim to administrative errors and mistakes? If errors are made, this will have a huge impact on a person’s life and circumstances. Fortunately, safeguards have been created to prevent the closure of a bank account which would leave the account holder without any means to live. But it is not clear precisely how that is going to work in practice as the advice being given to banks and building societies is that, if there has been an error, the individual has to take it up with the Home Office. How long would that take?
Whilst this may be seen as a further good move to prevent people living and working in the UK unlawfully, it is important that the new system will be robust enough to prevent mistakes and cause unnecessary disruption to people who do have a legitimate right to live and work in the UK.
But for those residing or working in the UK without the appropriate visa documentation the new rules will definitely make life very difficult.
Anyone in any doubt whether they may be caught by the new legislation should, therefore, as a matter of priority, seek independent legal advice about the ways in which they may be able to regularise their position in the UK before they are advised by their bank or building society that access to their account is no longer available to them.
For more information, please contact our immigration specialist, Kezia Daley.
T: 020 7408 8888