This week, MRN submitted evidence to the National Fraud Initiative (NFI) consultation, helpfully supported by the Open Rights Group. Within the NFI proposals, the government plans to give more power to police regarding how data is used and shared, for the purposes of ‘detecting fraud.’ We are particularly concerned with the impact these proposals will have on migrant communities, as we have already seen evidence of harm through our work with the Highly Skilled UK group (HSM), as well as in the Challenging Raids Lawyers’ Network. Data-sharing powers are already extensive and of particular concern is that the focus of this data collection is not restricted to serious crime.
We have been working with the HSM group since 2018, a group of 70+ individuals that have been denied indefinite leave to remain (ILR) on the basis of self-employment tax discrepancies under immigration rule 322(5). These migrants have been criminalised for tax errors, over half of which were made one time, under a rule previously only used for those that have committed war crimes and terrorism. These migrants were criminalised under similar ‘detection of crime’ practices between the Home Office and HMRC for errors made by 60% of British citizens (Institute of Fiscal Studies 2017).
The existing data sharing practices have been used as a way to monitor migrants in the UK, which has had an extraordinary impact on the wellbeing of migrants in our communities. We are concerned that proposals will only increase bias and harm experienced by migrant communities. For instance, as a result of the existing data practices, 45% of HSMs are experiencing destitution, homelessness or the inability to pay rent, with 24% having stated that they will imminently become destitute.
In addition, the police have long expressed concern with being involved in immigration matters, as they believe this to be harmful to community-policing relations. For instance, in reference to Operation Nexus, the Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer stated that the operation was “blurring the line of frontline police who we require to see the situation and the victims first, not their status in the UK” (Dodd 2018).
Furthermore, we are concerned about the impact of these proposals on everyday rights. Already, migrants are monitored through data matching powers that have had a detrimental effect on the lives of migrants. For instance, data checks between banking institutions and the Home Office have led to errors of up to 10%, according to the former Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt. This has led to banking accounts being incorrectly closed, leaving individuals in precarious and vulnerable positions with costly appeals taking up to a year.
Thus, we believe that the extension of powers that have been proposed will only continue to harm vulnerable groups of people, putting them at risk of exploitation, modern slavery, and destitution.
There’s a lot more to the proposals than we’ve mentioned above. To learn more about the NFI proposals, please see this briefing prepared by the Open Rights Group.
For more information about the issue we take with data being used to search for discrepancies, please see here.
If you would like to get in touch or raise any concerns about the above, please contact: [email protected].