However you feel about the former UKIP leader, closing accounts based on a person’s political or religious views is dangerous, says Rachel Pearce.
You start applying for a bank account online and the usual questions appear: name, date of birth, country of residence, blah blah. It’s all going well until you’re asked for your favourite crumpet topping (marmite and cheese triangles, obvs!), and all of a sudden your application is tossed into the cyber bin from a colossal height. There’s nothing you can do about it. There will be no bank account for you… and no crumpets either, for that matter.
OK, so that’s a silly example, but when the news about Nigel Farage’s recent bank account closure broke, a surprising number of people ("tens of thousands", according to Farage) came forward to say they had also been kicked out of their accounts for tenuous reasons that had nothing to do with their credit history or money management. Several Christians claim to have been blacklisted for expressing socially unacceptable views on same sex relationships.
Several Christians claim to have been blacklisted for expressing socially unacceptable views on same sex relationships.
Now, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Farage (or homophobes, for that matter), but I do have a problem with the way he was treated by Coutts. Not only did the bank show him the red light, but a senior staff member subsequently made public remarks about it. Talk about kicking a dog when it’s down.
Accounts may legally be closed in cases where fraud or criminal activity is suspected, or where the customer’s savings drop below a specified amount. Coutts claims the latter was the case for Farage, but he believes it was his status as a politically exposed person (PEP) that caused the damage, having allegedly been turned down by nine other banks for this reason. Banks are legally required to carry out additional due diligence on PEPs, who are more likely to become involved in corruption or bribery because of their roles as public officials, but it seems the decision was less to do with Farage’s cashflow and more to do with the perceived harm to Coutts’ reputation of keeping him on its books – which is not allowed… and rightly so.
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This kind of thing should set alarm bells ringing for all of us. Might my political views affect the future of my finances? Might my ethnicity prompt the slamming of doors in the world of wealth? Might my gender, sexuality or physical condition have a bearing on where I bank?
After all, the law stipulates that it’s illegal for banks to "discriminate against consumers legally resident in the United Kingdom by reason of their nationality or place of residence or by reason of sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion". We all have the legal right to a bank account… although most of us probably don’t have enough cash in the coffers to qualify for one at Coutts.
There are legitimate reasons why your account may be closed:
- It’s been dormant or barely used for several years
- Your balance has been at zero for some time
- You are repeatedly entering an unauthorised overdraft or your cheques are frequently bouncing
- You’re making too many transfers (where specified limits apply)
- You have an undisclosed criminal conviction or a high-risk occupation, such as drug dealing or providing escort services
- The bank goes into administration
If none of these apply but your account has been closed, it’s worth getting in touch with the Financial Ombudsman. The issue is already firmly on its radar, and banks have been told by the government to sharpen up their processes when it comes to account closures. The onus will now be on banks to explain why they are terminating an account and to give 90 days’ notice – in which time you can either file a complaint or find somewhere else to stash your cash.
Whatever your social, geographical and economic background, you should be left to bank in peace even if you hold – and voice – questionable opinions. Otherwise, freedom of speech is at risk once again, and cancel culture could end up blighting your cash… not to mention your crumpets.
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