The Home Office today published guidance for caseworkers on when to apply for a court order freezing the bank account of someone alleged to be in the UK unlawfully.
A freezing order under section 40C(2) of the Immigration Act 2014 “prohibits each person and body by or for whom the account is operated from making withdrawals or payments from the account”. The measure was introduced by Schedule 7 of the Immigration Act 2016, as part of the hostile environment package of restrictions aimed at making life intolerable for people without immigration status.
Freezing orders are an alternative to ordering banks to close accounts entirely. That is the other possible outcome when banks think they have found one of their customers on a Home Office database of people with no immigration status. The guidance tells caseworkers:
When you… confirm the individual in question is disqualified, you will either: inform the relevant Immigration Enforcement Officers who may apply for a freezing order for some, depending on the circumstances of the particular case, or all of the accounts; or instruct the firm that they are subject to the duty to close any accounts it holds for that person.
The main purpose of the guidance is to give a list of factors for deciding whether to apply for a freezing order rather than closing the account outright. They include the amount of money in the account: a balance of less than £1,000 is not considered worth going to court over, so accounts containing less than that amount will simply be closed. Caseworkers are also instructed to look at “the level of harm which an individual is reasonably suspected to pose, and the risk involved”, including criminality.
The factors are set out in full at paragraphs 24-33 of the guidance. Officially called the Immigration Act 2014 Code of Practice: Freezing Orders (bank accounts measures), it also covers variation or discharge of a freezing order and the arrangements for keeping a freezing order under review.
The code of practice is a requirement of the new section 40F of the Immigration Act 2014, as inserted by Schedule 7. It is in addition to the existing guidance aimed at individuals and financial institutions affected.
Banks are expected to carry out the first round of immigration checks on some 70 million accounts in January. Campaigners continue to highlight the inevitable suffering that will be caused by the freezing and closing of accounts – not least those shut down in error – with MPs and NGOs sending an open letter to the Home Secretary only yesterday.