British high street banks still closing UK expats accounts

Published:  4 Sep at 6 PM
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Over the past 18 months, UK expats living overseas have seen British banks clamping down on accounts held by expatriates.

Traditionally, Britons who chose to emigrate to warmer and often cheaper climes were able to maintain their UK bank accounts in order to receive pensions and other regular payments. Nowadays it’s almost impossible for expats to either continue an existing account or open a new one, as British banks are now insisting their services are only available to customers domiciled in the UK. No major high street building societies or banks are now taking deposits or providing banking facilities to non-UK residents.

Worse still, expatriates with long-standing accounts are being given a brief period of time to find another bank before their accounts are closed. Barclays was one of the first to inaugurate this policy, causing huge problems for pensioners whose monthly payments were only able to be sent to a UK-based bank account. Other banks were quick to follow, quoting recent changes in the legislation for international banking as the reason and ignoring protests from long-standing customers who’d retired overseas.

Of course, expat residents are able to open bank accounts in their new domicile, but the inability to receive regular funds can turn a peaceful, sunny retirement into a poverty-stricken nightmare punctuated with anger at unfair treatment. The same issue surfaces with savings accounts whose owners wish to transfer their funds to another investment offering better returns. Put simply, they’re now not allowed to transfer their own money to another UK building society or bank.

The obvious answer is to open an account with an offshore bank, but that’s getting trickier every year due to increasing regulatory fees and diminishing interest rates, both of which are a major disincentive to offshore banks’ willingness to accept less than wealthy customers. One favourite offshore jurisdiction, Guernsey, is already becoming far stricter as regards new accounts. Other offshore banks are setting deposit criteria from around £5,000 up to £25,000 as the minimum acceptable to open an account, and dormant accounts used for parking money in a safe haven are now being closed with two months’ notice.

Complaints about the issue have been made to the Competition and Markets Authority, which is now compiling a report expected to be published later this year. However, financial experts are warning affected expats not to expect good news as the issue isn’t in the CMA’s field of jurisdiction. Along with expat uncertainty about the right to remain after Brexit, a good number of Brits may be considering returning to the UK in order to get their hands on their own money.
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