Are British banks ridding themselves of their UK expat customers

Published:  15 Aug at 6 PM
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Between five and six million UK citizens living overseas may be at risk of losing their UK-based bank accounts.

Of the millions of UK-born expats living overseas, at least 800,000 are believed to be domiciled in European Union states as business owners, retirees or employees of foreign or UK-based companies. Creeping moves by British high street banks suggest that British citizens living in the EU or farther afield may no longer be welcome as customers.

The recent cancellation by Santander of expats’ debit cards held on their UK bank accounts has caused concern in many expat locations, even although the bank’s internal adjudicators came down on the side of protesting account holders and the service was reinstated. The excuse given by Santander for its initial action was the usual ‘risk of interception and fraudulent usage in the customer’s country of residence’.

However, the adjudicator also stated that the bank had made a mistake in that it had allowed customers living overseas to keep their UK accounts. A clause in Santander’s terms and conditions which stated that ‘we are a UK bank and do not serve UK citizens living overseas’ was quoted in the adjudicator’s report.

There’s no doubt that British banks are fully aware of the difficulties faced by expats in opening a UK bank account from an overseas address, obtaining a replacement credit card, changing accounts or even getting any sense out of the banks’ telephone helpdesks. They will also be aware that the UK state pension and many private pensions can only be paid into a UK bank account.

Given that account-holders’ money doesn’t simply sit in their personal accounts doing nothing, but is used by the banks for today’s version of the casino culture, it’s difficult to determine the reasons behind Santander’s actions and any which may follow in future. Perhaps it’s prejudice, or perhaps they just can’t be bothered with any transaction outside the norm.
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