New UK law forces British banks to allow expat accounts

Published:  30 Sep at 6 PM
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Discrimination by British banks against UK expats with no ties to the country wishing to open accounts is now against the law.

For some years, British banks have refused to open accounts for UK expats living overseas, and have even closed existing accounts. The reason behind the discrimination seems to be that not having a UK address stops financial companies from monitoring customers’ credit history in order to underwrite borrowing.

Whatever the reason, the banks’ unacceptable behaviour has caused major problems for many British citizens overseas. The Financial Conduct Agency’s Payment Account Directive first came into being in 2014, and was met by UK banks with a devastating silence. In the directive, the FCA stated all consumers living in EU member states can access banking services regardless of their nationality, where they live or their status in their country of residence.

The directive finally became law on 18 September this year, although it’s unclear as to the ultimate effects of Brexit as regards expat banking. The change is expected to affect over a million expats living in EU member states overseas, including the hundreds of thousands of Brits domiciled in Spain, Italy and France. All will be able to open UK bank accounts providing online banking and a debit card, although no credit facilites will be offered.

Several other clauses in the directive are of interest, including one which calls for banks to make charges and fees more transparent, with another aimed at making transferring an account to another bank far easier than before. If a British bank refuses to open an expat account, a full explanation as to the reason must be given, with grounds for refusal including criminal activity and money-laundering.

The nine major British banks now required to comply with the new law are Barclays, the Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, HSBC, the Cooperative Bank, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander and the TSB. At the present time, HM Revenue and Customs is staying silent on the directive’s effect on expat tax residence, as UK bank accounts are considered a financial tie to the UK in the statutory residence test.
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