Following the introduction of new rules in the 2016 Immigration Act requiring banks to check the immigration status of account holders, a customer of the Co-operative Bank raised the issue with the Customer Union for Ethical Banking to help seek the bank’s view on being effectively asked to ‘police’ immigration.
In its response to the Customer Union, the bank did not give a view but stuck to the facts of what its duties are. This, and a report in the Guardian from May 2018 that the government had decided to “suspend controversial immigration checks on thousands of bank accounts in the wake of the Windrush scandal”, left us wondering what the impact of these checks are. As a consequence, the Customer Union wrote a Freedom of Information Request to the Home Office in April asking whether they could confirm whether this suspension remains in place.
The Home Office replied that the provisions of the act “are not yet operating in full due to temporary restrictions introduced whilst we learn the lessons from the difficulties experienced by some members of the Windrush generation and ensure that no-one can inadvertently be erroneously impacted. The banking measures have at no point been suspended.”
The Home Office also explained that 22 accounts were “matched with a duty to close” in the first quarter of 2018, but only two instructions to close accounts had been sent since then (April 2018 to March 2019). The figures cover all UK banks, and the Home Office declined to provide details of which financial institutions had closed accounts. Similar rules requiring immigration checks for housing have been declared discriminatory and in breach of human rights laws by the High Court.
The Customer Union for Ethical Banking’s view is that these checks should be formally suspended as they are likely to found discriminatory in a similar way. We call on the home office to do so and urge concerned citizens to contact their MPs to ask them to support this call.