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If you refuse to pay your water bill, the water board cannot just cut your water off. If you refuse to pay your rent, your landlord cannot just kick you out. But if you cross your bank’s PR department, your rights pretty much end on the spot.
Banks have all sorts of customers including murderers, thugs and fraudsters, but increasingly if they don’t like your political or social views you could find yourself thrown out on your ear with very little warning. Here’s how.
Unlike water and shelter, there is no such thing as a right to a bank account in Britain, as Gordon Brown correctly identified after given them billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in 2008/9.
Sadly, he never got around to rectifying this oversight as planned before leaving office, meaning the high street bank that you bailed out with your taxes can legally refuse or withhold its services to you if you do or say something it disagrees with.
This can be anything from being rude to its staff to posting a meme it doesn’t like on Facebook. It could even mean refusing to use the ‘correct’ pronouns to address someone in the bank or outside of the bank. Who knows?
In North America, the practice has become widespread.
It actually made global headlines after Canadian banks closed the accounts of ordinary men and women who donated money to anti-lockdown protesters fighting vaccine mandates in the Canadian truckers’ convoy. Under Canada’s harsh passport system, ‘unjabbed’ children undergoing cancer treatment were forced out of their beds and made to move to alternative facilities while adults were fired from their jobs and banned from everything from shops to planes.
But that was all acceptable, apparently. What was not acceptable was ordinary men and women supporting the truckers’ protest against mandatory vaccines so their bank accounts were frozen.
However, it’s not just Canadian banks that are engaged in ‘de-banking’ those that go against the government or prevailing orthodoxy.
In 2020, Santander closed the accounts of one of the co-founders of a far-right British group known as the Patriot Alternative. The other co-founder had his account suspended by HSBC in the same month.
More controversially, the London-based money-transfer firm and bank, Wise, (formerly known as TransferWise) suspended the account of a pro-life Christian group, CitizenGO, under its “Acceptable Use Policy”. Apparently being pro-life is an offence punishable by banking banishment.
The company, which has more than 10 million users worldwide, told MoneyMagpie that it deactivates accounts “for a number of reasons, including (but not limited to) violations of our Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)”.
The exhaustive list of activities they deem unacceptable cites everything from creating pornography to using their services for “anything that is abusive, harmful, or does not comply with our content standards”. Clearly that includes deeply-held Christian views.
The latest example of Orwellian cancellation that has come to our notice is PayPal’s sudden refusal to allow The Free Speech Union – a group that upholds the principles of democracy and free speech – to use PayPal to process its membership fees. It has done the same with DailySceptic.org, which runs a newsletter full of articles that question established views.
Toby Young, who runs both of the above organisations and even had his own personal PayPal account blocked said “I contacted a customer service agent to find out how, exactly, all three accounts have violated PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy, but he could throw no light on the matter. I then submitted an appeal about the decisions to close the accounts, asking again how I’d violated the Policy, and they have not been successful. PayPal has still refused to say how the Free Speech Union violated its Policy.”
Interestingly, most banks and money transfer services have similarly subjective Ts&Cs, that can see account holders suspended for expressing legal, if unpopular, views.
Barclays and PayPal, for example, famously withdrew banking rights from another Christian organisation, the Core Issues Trust, following a high-profile campaign by LGBT activists opposed to its support for so-called “conversion therapy”.
Speaking at the time, a Barclays’ spokesman said its terms and conditions “allow us to end a relationship with any customer, provided we give two months’ notice”.
The fear among civil rights’ activists is that such moralising can quickly lead down a slippery slope, where anyone with contrary views risks being made a second-class citizen in our increasingly cashless and credit-orientated society.
One of the obvious targets for such an expansion of the de-banking is ex-offenders, who, like the divisive British groups mentioned above, often find themselves on the receiving end of moralistic petitions.
However, Gary Welsh, of the Preston-based ACE Project, which helps ex-offenders reintegrate into society, told MoneyMagpie that the banks have “never wanted to talk about people’s convictions unless fraud related”.
His experience was confirmed by all the major banks we contacted, who cited suspected money-laundering, fraud, or other red flags, like suspected involvement or financing of a terror group, as the only reason they would reject a criminal’s account.
It’s at this point that you may be wondering if there are any financial institutions that haven’t been completely taken over by the latest ideas of what is acceptable thinking and what isn’t. Well there are a few that seem to be untainted so far.
The Lloyds Group, whose portfolio includes Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland, told MoneyMagpie that they “understand access to the financial system is a crucial step in re-building a life post-prison”. Its spokesperson added that existing customers also wouldn’t see their accounts suspended if convicted of a crime unless the Group had to under UK and international law due to “money laundering, instances where the account has been used for illegality, or if the customer has committed a crime directly against the Group”.
While positive, this raises the prospect that people convicted of crimes may have more rights than those accused of “wrongthink”.
When asked if the Lloyds Group would suspend someone for airing controversial opinions, its spokesperson failed to respond. That said, none of its banks have found themselves at the centre of a high-profile de-banking story. And while Halifax may have recently been the focus of publicity storm after one of its staff told customers to bank elsewhere if they disagree with its corporate policy on trans’ rights, the Lloyds Group appears to be a relatively safe bet for customers concerned about a Canada-style crackdown on dissenters.
The popular international money transfer and payment service Revolut is also viewed by MoneyMagpie as a safe bet for those worried about political overreach by puritanical banks.
The app- and card-based service, which has more than 20 million users worldwide, told us that it has a legal duty to freeze or suspend the accounts of certain users under UK and international laws, including those flagged for possible money laundering breaches, or terrorism connections, however the company, which is popular with travellers thanks to its minimal foreign transaction fees, doesn’t appear to engage in extra-judicial suspensions of its users.
To open a free Revolut account, see their application page here.
For information about banking and how to open a complaint against your bank or building society, see the information on the Citizens’ Advice website here.
For more information on TallyMoney and how it works look at this article