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Refugees have the right to a bank account

I'm delighted to say that, as part of my ongoing campaign to support the rights of refugees, I've successfully persuaded the government to instruct banks to accept refugees’ biometric residence permits (BRPs) as valid ID for opening bank accounts.

After lobbying from me and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees, which I chair, Economic Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay MP has now contacted UK Finance, the association representing nearly 300 of the leading firms in the finance and banking sectors. He has insisted that people with refugee status and a government-issued BRP have a legal right to a basic bank account and must be able to exercise that right.

The move is effectively a sharp rap on the knuckles of some major banks. It means that many hundreds of refugees across the UK, with leave to remain and a right to work in the UK, will find it easier to find employment, pay bills and access other services. 

The recent inquiry of the APPG on Refugees, which I initiated, had uncovered a widespread reluctance by banks to give accounts to people with refugee status, despite their legal right to have one. The removal of this obstacle was one of the key recommendations of the group’s report Refugees Welcome?, published in April 2017 this year, and has been welcomed by refugee support groups.

When granted status, refugees just want to get on with building a new life. But, time and time again, obstacles are needlessly and sometimes illegally put in the way of some of our most vulnerable residents. A bank account is important for many reasons and banks are already aware that anyone with a valid BRP has a legal right to open a basic account. But some banks have been dragging their heels, and I’m grateful to the minister for making it clear to the banks that their actions are unacceptable.

In his letter Economic Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay MP said that, while understanding the challenges banks face in accommodating a range of customers with different needs, he found ‘any policy decision not to accept BRPs disappointing, given the clear industry guidance to approaches to non-standard documentation’. He stressed that ‘any holder of a valid BRP is legally resident in the UK, subject to any restriction or conditions displayed in the card.’ 

In his reply to the minister (partly redacted), UK Finance CEO Stephen Jones expressed disappointment that refugees had encountered difficulties with the banks and agreed that BRPs are not a cause for concern. He agreed to ‘take this issue forward immediately with those senior staff responsible for personal current accounts across our membership to ensure that their processes reflect this.’

Our ‘Refugees Welcome?’ report also highlighted other problems faced by refugees. One of these relates to the five documents refugees should receive, once granted status, in order to be able to move on from asylum accommodation, get a job, a bank account, a home and all the other basics a refugee need in order to settle and integrate.

Sadly these five documents do not all arrive simultaneously, causing hardship and in some cases destitution. The APPG recommended in our report that all five documents should be provided at the same time, when a refugee is granted status, and I have already taken this up with the Minister for Immigration, who has asked his officials to look at this. I’ll be keeping a close eye on progress here too.

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