The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has promised to investigate unlawful bank closures after the chancellor warned the practice could be “widespread”.
Jeremy Hunt told the FCA that he wants to see banks “spell out to an affected customer why they are terminating their payment account”. In a letter to the regulator, he wrote this would reassure the public and increase transparency.
Sky News has spoken to a number of individuals and organisations which have had accounts closed – or “de-banked”. None were given reasons.
“I have no doubt that it’s because of my political views,” said Anas Altikriti, who is a critic of Middle Eastern governments and runs the UK-based research and advisory group The Cordoba Foundation.
He told Sky News he has been de-banked six times in 10 years.
“I think it’s because somehow I’m flagged in various risk assessment or profile checking agencies and as a result the banks take this decision.
“A bank account is as essential as your water supply. Imagine the water company telling you we don’t like your political views so we’re going to stop your water supply.”
On Tuesday, after tweeting about his history of being de-banked, Mr Altikriti said his Barclays accounts were “mysteriously overdrawn” by £1m.
“Obviously I tried to call the bank but no one would give me any answers,” he said.
Barclays Bank told Sky News it would investigate the matter and report back by Tuesday.
Specific communities could be disproportionately affected
The Muslim Council of Britain warns that Muslims could be disproportionately affected.
“Many of the individuals who we’ve spoken to have been public in their activities related to Islam and Muslims,” explained assistant secretary general Miqdaad Versi.
“They have been active in pro-Palestinian issues or issues to do with their own faith and belief in different ways in their local mosques. These are things that we would consider not to be relevant to any banking decision,” he said.
Ayo Banjo, a British lawyer of Black African background, says the issue goes beyond just the Muslim community.
“It’s the sheer volume and concentration within a specific community, and also the fact that it ranges within the demographics of that community,” he said.
Mr Banjo says he is approached by a new client facing de-banking every week.
“The common thread between all the closures is that they service the black, British-Nigerian community.
“Often when we deal with a client from Nigeria, or multiple payments from a Nigerian or Black British community, questions begin. It’s cheaper to close accounts than to thoroughly investigate individual cases. Because of that, a whole community is financially excluded.”
Regulation 18 of the Payments Accounts Regulations makes it illegal to de-bank individuals based on their religion, race or any other ground referred to in Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Speaking earlier this week, Mr Hunt said: “A threat to be de-banked is a threat to your right to express your opinions.
“The FCA have the right to fine banks very large sums of money if they find this practice is widespread. I want to know if it is, and I want to know what they are doing about it.”
The chancellor’s letter urges the FCA to examine de-banking of both individuals and businesses.
The FCA has said it will ask the largest banks and building societies to provide data on the number of account terminations and the reasons behind them, as part of its investigation into the matter.
It is due to provide an initial assessment to the chancellor by mid-September.