In July, Nigel Farage revealed to the public that his personal and business bank accounts at an unnamed bank had been closed without explanation and that he was unable to open new accounts at several other banks.
Subsequently, Coutts, a private bank which has a reputation for serving high net worth individuals, leaked to the BBC that they had closed Farage’s account after his deposits fell below the threshold needed to maintain an account.
However, a subject access request to the bank later revealed the true motivations to be political: executives at Coutts were wary that Farage’s political views would jeopardise the bank’s reputation. In light of this revelation, the CEOs of Coutts and its parent NatWest both resigned.
This scandal attracted significant media attention and controversy. 58% of members of the public say they have read or heard a ‘significant’ or ‘fair’ amount about Nigel Farage’s bank account being closed in the past month.
A majority (52%) say Coutts was wrong to close Nigel Farage’s bank account, while 17% say the decision was right.
Crucially, a good number of voters believe this one incident may be representative of a broader problem in the banking system. A sizeable 27% believe that what happened to Farage and his bank account is something that could happen to themselves and their bank account.
In response, the Government has responded positively to calls to investigate and crack down on de-banking, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt writing to the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure that banks are not breaking the law by de-banking individuals.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also weighed in on the matter by refusing to back NatWest chairman Howard Davies, an intervention supported by a clear majority of 56% of voters.
In addition, MP David Davis last week announced his intention to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to make it a legal right for everyone in the UK to have access to a full bank account with a debit card as well as a full business account.
Indeed, a near unanimous 89% of voters in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats that swung Conservative at the last election agree that everyone legally in the United Kingdom should have the right to a bank account. Just 1% of voters in this collection of seats disagrees.
And even more agree that if a bank decides not to open a bank account for a new customer, the bank should be required by law to give a reason to the customer and that if a bank decides to close a bank account of an existing customer, the bank should be required by law to give a reason to the customer and to provide a notice period.
More specifically, as many as 70% of Britons believe that banks should not be allowed to decline services to customers based on their political views.
If a bank is found to have closed a customer’s bank account on grounds other than commercial ones or in the event of conviction of crimes, 63% agree that the bank in question should be subject to arbitration by an independent body, as suggested by MP David Davis. Only 5% of respondents disagree with this proposition.
Compliance with these regulations are widely seen as baseline requirements for doing business in the UK by the British public.
In the event that banks close personal accounts without explaining why or offering a right of appeal, 66% of the public believe that those banks should have their right to trade in the UK revoked while 6% say otherwise.
Such unanimity suggests that voters may already think they have these rights. As such, 67%, including 66% of 2019 Labour voters, say they would agree with their Member of Parliament if they voted for Davis’ bill, which would ensure such rights. Only 4% would disagree with their MP in such a scenario.
Overall, a majority of the public say Coutts decision to close Nigel Farage’s bank account was wrong. But beyond the specific Farage case, voters are nearly unanimous in agreeing with the general premise that everyone should have the right to a bank account and that one’s bank account should not be closed arbitrarily for reasons other than strictly commercial ones.