We received £15K from Oxygen Accelerator. Well, on paper at least. We do not have the money on our bank account for one simple reason: we don’t have a bank account. For us as foreigners, it’s next to impossible to open one. Let me explain.
Anti-money laundering legislation in the UK states that one needs two things to open a bank account:
1) A passport
2) A proof of address.
The first part is easy, we all got our passports with us. But for a foreigner not living permanently in the UK, it is almost impossible to meet the second requirement. The address proof appears to be the government’s silver bullet against money launderers. Apparently the one single thing that distinguishes money launderers from regular people is that money launderers don’t have a place to live. For a foreign student or businessman, this legislation makes it almost impossible to open a bank account.
You see, in order to prove your address you have to show an utility bill with your name and address on it. No, your lease agreement won’t do the trick: it has to be a bill from one of the national service providers such as British Telecom or British Gas. No, a notarized confirmation of your address won’t do the trick either. But then, how could somebody who does not have a permanent home in the UK get an utility bill? Especially when they are there for only three months?
Although we already have the internet connection in our rental house, we thought that we would get another one, just to get the utility bill needed (a month later, but still), then a bank account and then that £15K we have waited so anxiously for. With installation and monthly payments it would cost us £145 for three months. Not cheap but we would get this bank account sorted out at least. Right?
Well, not really. The thing is, there are three of us assigned as Directors of LogistIT Ltd – me, Jüri, Tarmo – and EACH ONE of us would have to prove our address in order to get a bank account. But there can be only one name on the Internet contract (and for that matter – whichever utility contract we are talking about). Therefore we would have to produce three different contracts (with three different service providers), one for each name. Not only is this pretty expensive, but it just feels totally absurd to have three contacts we actually don’t need.
Our Romanian friends, StoreBeez’s, are even in worse situation than we are: in addition to lacking an utility bill they also do not have passports. Not even back in Romania. They only have their national ID-cards which were sufficient enough to get them into the UK. However, these ID-cards are useless in banks, only passport is good enough to identify oneself there. Apparently the harm one can do having a bank account dwarfs the harm they can do by being physically present.
I think with this kind of crap, the UK goverment is denying their country a whole lot of good business. It irritates me that instead of doing actual work I have to deal with all this bs just to open a bank account. In our case, we don’t have the choice, as probably don’t have the international students in Cambridge, Oxford and other universities. But as for lot of other start-ups or business people, I think they would “flee” the country as soon as possible to some place where they feel more welcomed.
What is the upside for Britian to have so tough laws? Is really the lack of a place to live the one big difference between somebody laundering money and somebody trying to do legitimate business? I don’t think so. The current legislation is like curing a sick fingernail by cutting off the hand. And worse than that – I’m sure the real money launderers will find a(n easier) way over the utility-bill-requirement. But is sure causes a lot of headache to foreigner students, businessmen and anybody else coming to the country and in a need to establish a local bank account. With these laws the Britons hinder the only kind of immigration they actually should welcome.