Regular readers will be aware that my wife and I are currently going through the long process for her to gain British citizenship, after moving here from the United States. Contrary to popular belief, marriage doesn’t mean that you automatically have a right to stay in the UK.
There are many, deep flaws and contradictions with the law and the Home Office’s application of it. I’ve written about some of this before, but there is plenty I haven’t covered, which is partly out of a very real fear that any concerns I raise publicly could prejudice the outcome of the process itself… which is in of itself a huge problem that we need to face up to. However, I want to do my bit to highlight a few of the more specific problems I have come across, with my conjoined perspective as a lawyer, and the spouse of a non-EU citizen.
In this entry I am going to detail a practical procedural issue that has cropped up multiple times throughout our visa ‘journey’. Theoretically, it should be one of the most straightforward portions of the whole process, but in reality it has turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. That is: getting copies of bank statements that satisfy the Home Office Requirements.
Fair warning: This is fairly long, and probably not much interest to those of you just looking for a casual read – but I think it’s important to be comprehensive, and I know that these posts are picked up by others looking for help on Google – so it is what it is.
Home Office Requirements
In order to qualify for a spousal visa, or visa renewal (called ‘Further Leave to Remain’, or ‘FLR(M)’ in this case), you need to prove that you and your partner have financial means of support. You can do this in various ways, but the most realistic for ‘regular’ couples is through income from employment. In other words, demonstrating that you have a job where you earn at least £18,600 per annum (this figure goes up if you have children).
In order to prove your income, you need to submit payslips covering a 6 month period, with corresponding bank statements. If you’ve changed jobs, this becomes 12 months. In of itself, this seems straightforward enough. However, there are some complications:
- You cannot apply for a visa renewal/extension more than 28 days before your current visa expires. (well, technically you can, but this will cause problems further down the line).
- Any evidence you provide has to be from less than 28 days prior to the date of your application.
- Once your evidence is submitted, you still need to either send off all of the documentation, or attend an appointment in person. There is no guarantee that you will get an appointment at short notice, or in the location you want. In the past, people have frequently had to travel across the UK to find any available open spot. In our case, we had to go down to Liverpool from Glasgow.
When it comes to the bank statements themselves, things are complicated further.
- Electronic print outs of bank statements are not accepted, unless accompanied by an official letter from the branch stating their authenticity or stamped on each page to the same effect.
- Bank staff rarely understand the specific requirements of the Home Office, and are often unwilling to provide stamped statements/a letter in the first instance – leaving you to ‘order’ paper copies instead.
- Ordering statements can take time, and are subject to delays.
It isn’t unusual for banks to say that ordering copies of statements could take up to two weeks, which leaves a pretty short window of time for the evidence to arrive, be submitted, and then to get an appropriate appointment. All the while, the anxiety over the rapidly impending deadline is growing.
Royal Bank of Scotland and Copies of Statements
I am an RBS customer who gets digital statements. I used to get paper statements sent in the post, but they had such a problem getting my flat address correct (unbelievably, they couldn’t understand the slash or dash system), that it made things even harder. So, now I don’t. That means that I need to order copies of my statements every time we come for another round of visa extensions.
The online RBS Support Centre states that ‘you should receive your paper statement within 5-6 days of ordering it.’ That isn’t ideal, but it’s also not awful. So long as they stick to that timeframe, you should be able to pull together everything you need.
To THL, or not to THL?
I logged onto digital banking as outlined above, and chatted with one of the advisors. Here we ran into the first problem. I was told that they could order me a ‘transaction history list’ (THL) instead of a statement. When I queried what the difference was between the two, they said ‘there’s no big difference’. Well, that isn’t really good enough. What might be a minor difference to customer support at RBS could well be enough to have the FLR(M) rejected. No thanks. After a while of trying to figure that out, I decided to just go into the branch.
The branch staff were helpful, but nobody in there seemed to be able to tell me what the difference was between a THL and a statement either. We went through a checklist on the bank’s system to determine what I needed, and it came out saying THL – but again, no explanation of why there were two different sets of documentation, and what was what. To be safe, we ordered a ‘copy statement’ – despite all of the efforts of the bank’s systems to direct us down the THL route. I asked how long the statements would take to arrive, and the teller dropped the bombshell that it could be up to 2 weeks (10 working days). Reassured by his insistence that they usually come through much faster than that, I went home. In any event, he said he would check in on the status of the request in a couple of days and let me know if there had been no update.
One week in. No Statements.
After five days, I hadn’t received any statements, and I was beginning to get antsy. At this point I knew I wouldn’t be getting anything in the post over the weekend, and the clock was ticking. I went into the branch to get some kind of confirmation that the statements were on their way. However, after being told (again) that I could ‘just print them off from digital banking’, it turned out that they don’t have any visibility on the status of statement orders, as they are fulfilled from some central place. Great. I was again reassured that the statements would arrive within ten business days, and that there was ‘nothing’ they could do in the meantime. Gritting my teeth, I left, and tried to tell myself that it would be fine.
At this point I was getting extremely stressed out with the seemingly blasé attitude of the bank, and for good reason. When we were first applying for a fiancée visa so that my partner could come to live in the UK, I had a huge bust up with the Royal Bank of Scotland’s main branch on Gordon Street, in Glasgow.
As mentioned previously, the address on my paper statements had been messed up for months, and not fixed despite my repeated attempts. As a result, they were useless for evidentiary purposes. I went into the bank to get copies of the statements printed off and stamped, naively thinking that this would be a simple request. Oh no. I was flatly told that my request was ‘against RBS policy’. I didn’t really believe this at first, and thought that common sense would prevail after I explained the situation, and how the only reason I didn’t have paper statements in the first place was as a result of the bank’s failure to grasp Glasgow flat addresses properly. Unfortunately, it did not.
Despite me stressing that my immigration lawyer had stated that I needed a specific format of statement to comply with the Home Office regulations, the staff told me that the bank manager had denied my request because ‘You know what lawyers are like. They say lots of things’ and ‘we see people all the time applying for student visas and the print outs from digital banking are fine’.
Faced with the prospect of my entire life plans falling apart as the result of a decision made by a condescending bank manager who wouldn’t even come and speak to me directly, I blew a gasket, and caused such a scene that I was taken into a side room where the manager made me show him where in the Home Office regulations it said that this is what I needed (yes, really).
Endless RBS Contradictions
As you can imagine, I was a bit concerned (!) that if the statements I had ordered didn’t arrive in time, that my only option would be to go into the branch and get them printed/stamped/authenticated – and that I would have to carry out some kind of demonstration in order to do so. I had a full speech and strategy prepared, which included sitting down on the floor of the bank until they provided me with the proper documentation. That might sound extreme and ridiculous, but remember that getting these paper statements is necessary to make sure that my wife is not deported from our home in Glasgow, and our whole lives turned on their heads. With that in mind, it suddenly doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.
Anyway, unsatisfied with the answer I’d received from the bank, I then attempted to call the branch directly and speak with a manger to get some kind of reassurance that if worst came to the worst, they would be able to help me. However, I was routed to a digital banking call centre in Liverpool (the cruel irony). At first, they seemed to understand my question, which was a relief – but then they came back to say I should just print off the PDF statements from my online account. After yet more explanations, they then told me that definitively speaking, branches were not allowed to print off, stamp, and authenticate statements like I had asked.
At the same time as this though, I had tweeted the bank’s social media team at @RBS_HELP to pose the same question. They had a different answer – equally as definitive:
To throw more mud in the water, I also read about someone else in Scotland who was fighting a similar battle, and who had been told after a whole load of mucking about that it was down to the bank’s discretion.
So… what one is it? Why was this so difficult? Is getting a copy of paper statements not simply a basic function of a bank? Why did we spend Billions of taxpayers’ money to bail out banks if they can’t even provide such a base line of service? Why is this process being made so much harder needlessly by an institution that is supposed to be making efforts to recover public trust?
How many days again?
By this point, my stress levels were through the roof. I can usually handle pressure well, but when you are trapped in a situation that you have no control over, and have to rely on other people who have no personal investment, it’s much harder – especially given the high stakes.
I had talked myself off the ledge with the reasoning that I had only been charged for the ‘historic bank statements’ on Friday the 1st of March. Despite that being 5 working days after I ordered them in the first place, I thought they would surely turn up by Tuesday. Either way, if they weren’t here by the Friday I would go into the branch, armed with the rationale that they had failed to deliver on the 10 business days statement.
Come Wednesday though, there was still no sign of the statements, and I was losing patience. I checked over the bank’s support documentation again, to see whether I had missed anything – but nope, it clearly said that statement copies would only take 5-6 days. At this point, we were at 8-10. I decided to ask the digital banking advisors for some reassurance, but that only served to frustrate me further, as they insisted that the statements would take 10 working days to arrive, irrespective of what their own site said:
I asked RBS on Twitter what the deal was, and after telling me AGAIN to just download and print PDF statements, they said that the ‘timescales would depend on the type of statement’ – with zero recognition that their documentation says nothing about this.
In the end, I decided that waiting a few more days wasn’t worth the damage to my blood pressure, and I went into the bank determined to get the statements that day. As it turned out, the manager had been contacted by the Twitter team, and was prepared to help out. He was incredibly apologetic, and took the time to make sure that I got the statements and the accompanying letter in a format that would meet the Home Office requirements.
There’s a few things that can be taken from this experience:
- The Home Office regulations are deliberately and unnecessarily restrictive on both the format of the statements, as well as the timescales involved – which makes it extremely difficult for applicants and institutions to reasonably comply.
- Despite this, the Royal Bank of Scotland is failing its customers on a number of counts. Specifically by the inaccurate information on their website; the inconsistency and lack of clarity on process between different departments/members of staff; as well as the unreasonably long time to process basic requests.
- Despite eventually providing the requested information, people should not have to rely on kicking up a fuss online.
- RBS need to stop telling people to download PDF statements from online banking as the default response to any kind of statement query. It is misleading, shows a lack of interest or basic understanding, and will trip up people who are not as familiar with the specifics of the Home Office requirements as I am.
This is just one example out of many of the procedural problems inherent in the UK’s immigration law. Having a broken system which places pressure on applicants purely as a kind of punitive stress test is not beneficial for anybody – irrespective of what your views on immigration might be.
After I posted the above, I contacted the office of the Chief Executive, Ross McDonald to complain about the lack of clarity in the process, and their lack of understanding. After a couple of back and forths, they said:
All our staff have access to an online business support manual which clearly explains the process and timeframe for ordering and providing copy/historic statements. Five to six days is regularly achieved, but I am aware of instances where the process has taken longer and a project team is reviewing the process to establish what is going wrong.
In terms of providing statements quickly, we provide up to seven years statements via Online Banking and these can be printed and are suitable for almost all purposes. You can get an up to date statement covering the last few months transactions at any of our branches and again these should be suitable for most purposes. It is our policy to no longer authenticate documents such as statements and passport documentation via the application of a stamp and signature.
- Statements are (usually) provided within 5-6 days of ordering them – but there are problems with that.
- No recognition of the disparity between the website information and the information provided by staff online and in branch.
- A statement (again) that online banking statements are ‘suitable for most purposes’ – completely ignoring everything I’ve repeatedly said about the Home Office requirements.
- A definitive statement that RBS will not authenticate statements via a stamp – contrary to what their online helpdesk and branch staff said.
What a joke.