UK regulator finds no evidence of politicians being ‘debanked’ over views

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A review by the chief UK financial regulator has uncovered no evidence that politicians are being denied bank accounts because of their views, according to people briefed on the findings.

The Financial Conduct Authority launched a probe in August, weeks after former UK Independence party leader Nigel Farage unleashed a debate on free speech by claiming his accounts with private bank Coutts were about to be closed because his views “did not align” with the lender.

The row over the “debanking” of Farage sparked complaints from other politicians about their treatment by lenders, prompting the government to order a review by the FCA.

People familiar with the situation said the FCA would publish findings in the coming days showing there were no cases of political views being the “primary” reason for personal account closures across the 34 banks and payment companies that were asked to submit data to the regulator. The FCA declined to comment.

The data examined by the FCA covers the period from June 2022 to June 2023.

Farage went public about how his bank accounts were about to be closed by an unnamed “prestigious” financial institution in late June, and later confirmed it was Coutts.

But his accounts with Coutts were still active at the end of July, when he said the bank had offered to let him stay.

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage in July published extracts from a dossier compiled by Coutts on him, in which the bank said continuing to serve him would not be “compatible with Coutts” © Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

The FCA is aware the data used in its review was compiled quickly and that not all banks have good systems for monitoring and recording why accounts are closed or refused, said two people briefed on its work.

They added that the regulator would carry out further work to ensure that banks and payment companies are not unfairly denying access to services.

There was some unease in Whitehall that the FCA had failed to find data to show that “debanking” of people for their political views was widespread.

One government insider said “regulators have been quite slow off the line on this issue”, adding that the data assembled by the FCA “might lack granularity”.

Farage in July published extracts from a dossier compiled by Coutts about him, as it deliberated about closing his accounts, in which the bank said continuing to serve him would not be “compatible with Coutts” since his views were “at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”.

The row led to the departure of Alison Rose, chief executive of NatWest, Coutts’ parent company, after she admitted sharing confidential information about his accounts with a journalist.

Politicians from across party lines, led by prime minister Rishi Sunak, have condemned the apparent practice of banks closing down accounts of people because of their political views.

“People need to be able to have lawfully held views that we might not agree with, but they shouldn’t be denied financial services because of them,” said Sunak last month.

The FCA is separately reviewing the treatment by financial services companies of so-called politically exposed persons, a group that includes politicians and civil servants. The work is due to be completed next year.