UK probes allegations banks blacklisting clients over political views

LONDON (Reuters) -The British government has said it is looking into concerns that banks are blacklisting certain customers over their political views, after individuals including leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage said their access to finance was being cut.

“It would be a serious concern if financial services were being denied to those exercising the right to lawful free speech,” a spokesperson for the finance ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The government recently passed legislation requiring regulator the Financial Conduct Authority to review how banks treat “politically exposed persons”, “so we can strike the right balance between the customer’s right to free speech and the bank’s right to manage commercial risk”, the spokesperson said.

The ministry spoke out against ‘cancel culture’ earlier this year as it began consulting on its payments regulations, including whether current rules were protecting freedom of expression.

The Daily Telegraph first reported overnight that the ministry was poised to recommend a more rigid notice period for closing accounts and require finance firms to provide more information on their reasons.

Farage claimed in a video posted on Twitter last week that his bank of more than three decades had informed him that his bank account was being closed, adding he had been rejected by several other lenders when he tried to open another account. He did not name the banks.

British press reports have suggested other individuals and groups have lost access to various financial services after they expressed certain views, including a vicar who said his account was being closed after he complained about his lender promoting transgender “ideology”.

The government’s payments review cited cases involving payments giant PayPal, which terminated and later reinstated a number of user accounts without publicly disclosing its reasons.

PayPal cancelled the online payment accounts of the Daily Sceptic, which has challenged scientific consensus on global warming and COVID-19 vaccines, and the Free Speech Union, which has criticised ‘cancel culture’, along with the account of its founder Toby Young.

PayPal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bank lobby group UK Finance said in a statement that bank accounts were only closed after an extensive review and said potential reasons could include breaches of terms, abusive or threatening behaviour, or suspicious activity.

“If a firm concludes that it cannot continue to offer services, it must communicate this to the customer so far as permissible and in every case treat the customer fairly,” the spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Iain Withers; Editing by Huw Jones and Jan Harvey)