This week we learned that Theresa May will order banks and building societies to check 70 million current accounts per quarter to weed out 6,000 illegal immigrants per year.
As with everything she does, this is Theresa’s deployment of a surveillance state as law and order: every current account holder in Britain, citizen or not, monitored and inspected several times a year in the public interest.
Nevermind the fact that there aren’t enough resources to carry out the existing domestic legislation we’re already supposed to have.
Nevermind the fact that Home Office errors are already leading to incorrect shutdowns of bank accounts.
And nevermind the fact that this move will just drive the handful of people who aren’t supposed to be here into underground and off-grid finance, as if they weren’t there already.
No, it’s the other thing.
Theresa, do you have any idea how fucking hard it is to get a bank account in this country as a legal immigrant?
Let me tell you.
When I moved to the UK because of my marriage to a Scot, I went to the local Bank of Scotland to get an account. Just an everyday current account: the basic thing that would let me put my wages somewhere and buy groceries. It should have been so simple, right?
My arse. The tartan-and-teeth BoS girl practically hit the alarm buzzer under her desk. A back room chat with her manager. A call to corporate headquarters in Edinburgh. Then she told me that because I was new in this country and was not allowed to import my perfect credit history (“because Data Protection”), she was only willing to give me a restricted basic starter account. It’s what they called a Cashsave account. It’s the account they would normally gave 16-year-olds opening an account with mummy and daddy’s help which is upgraded to a regular current account at 18.
I thought, “Yay, my foot is in the door!” and agreed to the minor indignity of having a teenager’s cash account despite being a bit away from 16.
Fast forward two years later. I was working full time. I had achieved permanent residency. I was, save for one Friday night out on the town, a responsible diligent adult.
And BoS was still refusing to upgrade me to an everyday basic fully functional account.
Without a basic current account I couldn’t get a credit card, get finance to lease the car I desperately needed, or do much of anything; in fact, I couldn’t even use my quasi-debit card (Electron) in most places. Hell, I couldn’t even get a membership at the Council gym.
I went into the bank several times and appealed. It was always turned down with a nervous “we’re not able to explain the decision to you.” I demanded to see the bank manager. “No, you can’t do that, that won’t make any difference.”
Then I had an idea: I’d take it to my MP. So I went to Jim Murphy (‘member him?) at his Saturday surgery. I felt bad about it because at the time he was in the Cabinet and probably had better things to do. But he was more than happy to speak with me. So I explained the story and gave him copies of all the letters and documentation I had built up from two years of refusals.
That was on a Saturday. On the Tuesday BoS couriered me paperwork to sign to get my basic current account. Their letter included an explanation for the refusals: “This was due to an error in the way your account was initially set up in 2003.”
I smelled shite. So I did a little digging and found out why I’d spent two years as a married working adult with a restricted cash account meant for teenagers. Have a guess.
It’s because the tartan-and-teeth set were looking out for number one: their sales quotas. Setting up basic current accounts, and upgrading Cashsave accounts to basic current accounts, did not earn any points or progress towards sales quotas and bonuses.
I had spent two years financially marginalised over fucking sales quotas.
Have things become easier for me 12 years after that with a British passport picked up along the way? No, they haven’t.
This week I was rejected for a tenancy on a flat because they want self-employed folk to have a guarantor. And I got no one, so no flat.
I am stuck in an abusive marriage to an alcoholic because responsible citizenship and 10 years of self-employment don’t count anymore. It’s not how hard you work. It’s not how well you behave. It’s not what you’ve achieved. All that matters now is the presumption that you are unworthy. What else do you expect in a country led by people obsessed with order and place and defining people by where they came from and punishing them for straying outside those sad mental borders?
So once again, for the lack of having an authority figure to pat me on the head (and I’m pushing 40), I continue to be financially marginalised outside things that I should be able to take for granted – opportunity, being treated fairly, and having the chance to sleep through the night because God knows I haven’t in months – and that is as a British citizen.
I got in when I was able to and got my citizenship while I could. God help those who came after me.
And that basic everyday current account which literally took Parliamentary intervention to exist, and with which I wasn’t allowed to rent a safe roof over my head, will now be surveilled four times a year for evidence of wrongdoing. Because I may live here, but I’m not from here, and nobody who is not from here will ever be good enough to be here.
About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.