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Opinions of Thursday, 9 November 2017

Columnist: Lawyer Daniel Koi

What to do if the British Home Office closes your bank account

The United Kingdom has for many years been battling to take charge of its borders and if nothing points you to the seriousness of this national quest, Brexit alone should make it clearer to you that the UK means business.

Immigration has been on top of the UK’s agenda, and the Home Office has been rolling in policies and mechanisms aimed at creating a hostile environment for those in the country without leave to remain (disqualified persons) so that these people will have no other options than to leave.

It’s the old rat and smoke hunt tactic which has been adopted: when a rat is being chased by a hunter and it takes refuge in a hole, the hunter’s best option is to usually discharge smoke into the hole to create discomfort. Eventually, the rat comes out running.

The latest to have come into force among series of new Immigration control rules is Section 40G of the Immigration Act 2014, as amended by the Immigration Act 2016. Under this, all UK banks and building societies have a duty to close any account where instructed to do so by the Secretary of State.

From 12 December 2014, banks and building societies were prohibited from opening new current accounts for any disqualified person (a person without leave to remain) or add such a person to an existing account under section 40 of the Immigration Act 2014.

Now, a new layer has been added; from 30 October 2017, banks and building societies must close or restrict access to an existing account owned by a disqualified person. The duty is to close the relevant account “as soon as reasonably practicable”.

Knowing the Home Office, and the fact that inspectors found in 2016 that 10% of cases were wrongly listed as “disqualified persons” causing inconvenience to innocent people, a lot of people who may be qualified persons will definitely be screwed by the Home Office, and have their accounts wrongly closed or listed to be closed down.

So what do you do if your account is closed or to be closed by the Home Office?

The Home Office has provided a route of redress when your account has been wrongly closed down under this new rules in a guideline, albeit almost useless. And that’s; to take it up with the Home Office, by sending out a complaint.

It’s expected that your bank or building society wouldn’t get involved in dealing with the Home Office once it has closed your account in accordance with a Home Office instruction. You would have to deal with the Home Office, an extensively bureaucratic body directly. This is when the services of a Solicitor familiar with dealing with the Home Office may be important in fetching a quicker response.

The Home Office says, once your account has been closed and you have any issues, you will have to contact them via the generic UK Visas and Immigration complaints process:

If you believe you are not unlawfully present in the UK or there is another reason why your account should not be closed, you should contact the Home Office by telephone on 0300 123 2241, or by visiting https://www.gov.uk/contact-ukvi or by writing to:

Complaints Allocation Hub UK Visas and Immigration 40 Wellesley Road 7th Floor, Lunar House Croydon

CR9 2BY Email: complaints@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk This service which recently was failing to meet its target promises a response within 20 working days, in 95% of cases. This means, if your bank account gets closed wrongly, you would have to wait for a month or more to hear anything from Home Office.

Imagine having all your money stuck in there—and what happens to the various direct debit payments which would be missed?

The Home Office at this stage has not provided anything in the guide that suggests how it will deal with missed payments or outlined any sort of compensation for those it will wrongly screw up, in its bid to creating a severe hostile environment for disqualified persons in the UK.

The Home Office has further stated that

“If a complainant is not satisfied by the initial response, the complaint will be recorded as a Stage Two Complaint and reviewed by a member of staff at Grade 6 or above.”

Interestingly, no timescale has been given for the review and if a person is not satisfied with the outcome of a review, the next institution to complaint to is the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman which upheld 75% of complaints it received about the Home Office in 2015/16.

It’s obvious the Home Office is going to make mistakes, out of which certain qualified persons would be wrongly branded unqualified and suffer some sort of financial blockage. The Home Office’s slow review or response to complaints procedure wouldn’t be any help to those who would be wrongly affected—and the absence of adequate information on how it would redress the financial consequence of screwing a person up wrongly is equally problematic.

As it stands, if the Home Office wrongly screws up with your bank account as it seeks to cause havoc in the lives of disqualified persons, you would have to, unfortunately, fight them alone at a slow pace while enduring the pains of their mistake.