Sajid Javid suspends requirement for banks to provide information to Home Office on possible illegal migrants
Immigration checks by banks using Home Office data will be suspended in the latest fall-out from the Windrush scandal.
At the start of the year, banks began scrutinising around 70 million accounts with the intention of closing those of illegal migrants – in order to force them to leave the country.
They are required to inform the Home Office when there is “a clear data match” with someone on its list, in what was a significant extension of the now infamous “hostile environment”.
But the problems highlighted by the Windrush debacle – of individuals denied access to services and work after being wrongly identified as illegal immigrants – have raised doubts over the reliability of the checks.
Sajid Javid (pictued), the new home secretary, told MP that the Home Office has written to the banks to tell them to suspend the checks temporarily.
A Home Office spokeswoman said it was vital that the compliant environment – the new name for what Theresa May called the hostile environment – had “appropriate safeguards”.
“After careful consideration, we have decided to temporarily reduce the scope of the checks being carried out on bank accounts,” she said. “It is right, in light of Windrush, that we review existing safeguards to ensure that those who are here lawfully are not inadvertently disadvantaged by measures put in place to tackle illegal migration.
“We remain committed to tackling illegal immigration and to encouraging compliance with our rules and laws.”
The Home Office said it did not publish data on the number of bank accounts already shut down under the measures, nor the number of other actions taken.
The suspension is the second policy reversal after ministers bowed to pressure from MPs by reining in the NHS sharing patients’ details in order for the Home Office to carry out immigration raids.
The Home Office had hoped to catch more than 6,000 illegal immigrants with British bank accounts in the first year of the new policy, an impact assessment stated.
People without a valid visa were already banned from setting up accounts, renting property and working in this country, but the Home Office said people were still slipping through its net. It said it would only share details of illegal migrants who were liable for deportation from the UK or had absconded from immigration control.
Javid told Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee: “Letters in the thousands were sent to banks on individuals where the department believes they are illegal migrants, to close their bank accounts.
“What I have instructed officials to do is to contact those banks again and ask them not to go ahead with that until I am more comfortable that we have it right.”
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0