UK: Banks start immigration checks of account holders in crackdown
12 Jan 2018

Banks and building societies in the United Kingdom have began checking their databases as part of an initiative to assist the government in weeding out personal account holders who are living in the country illegally.

The financial services industry, alongside the property market and other sectors, has been roped into new government plans to drive out undocumented migrants.

Current accounts found to be operated by illegal immigrants may be shut down.

The Home Office has shared its list of known illegal immigrants with the banks as well as with anti-fraud group Cifas.

The government aims to obtain court orders instructing the banks to freeze bank accounts in cases where criminality is suspected.

The new measures build on powers to stop illegal migrants from opening new current accounts which were introduced three years ago.

Minister for Immigration Caroline Nokes said: “These new measures are part of our commitment to make it more difficult for people with no right to live or work in the UK to remain here.”

“Those living and working in the UK illegally can drive down the wages of lawful workers, allow rogue employers to undercut legitimate businesses and put pressure on taxpayer-funded public services.”

However, some are sceptical of the plans.

Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, raised concern that there may arise incidents in which some British residents appear on the list of illegals by mistake.

“It is only a matter of time before a family is forced into destitution, unable to open a bank account, to pay rent, to accept a job because an unknown bureaucrat at the Home Office has mistakenly blacklisted one of the parents.”

“Even a valid British passport will no longer be enough to support their application to open an account. This is deeply sinister and must be a concern for everyone, including those who do hold British passport,” Singh added.

The group’s website explains that the latest guidance from the Home Office states: “If a customer has documentary evidence (such as a passport or a Biometric Residence Permit) that appears to contradict the Home Office data and shows that the customer is lawfully present in the UK – then the bank or building society may contact the Home Office to confirm if the data held by Cifas is correct.”

“This course of action should only be taken in exceptional circumstances when there is a definite reason to believe an error has occurred. There is no requirement to make this check and the default position should be to refuse the application.”

In response to Singh’s comments, a Home Office spokesman referred to to Minister Nokes’ comments.

Other UK news:

The UK’s new anti-corruption strategy – five key points and lingering questions

UK announces new anti-money laundering umbrella body

Bankers, lawyers, accountants top UK money laundering risk assessment (again)

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