David Prosser: Bashing the banks all over again


Outlook When the public finances are as shaky as they are now, a Chancellor looking for Budget giveaways has to think laterally. So you can see why Alistair Darling may be tempted to say today – as reports suggest he will – that banks are to be legally required to offer a current account to anyone who asks for one. It would cost the Treasury not a penny and has all the appearances of an attack on greedy, selfish banks that aren't interested in doing business with the less well-off in society.

There's just one problem with that analysis. The larger banks are already legally required to offer a basic account – which is all the Chancellor is talking about – to almost everyone who asks. There are but two exceptions. A bank can say no to such a request if you're an undischarged bankrupt (though several institutions are prepared to accept such people as customers) or if you're a convicted fraudster.

It seems unlikely that Mr Darling is planning to order the banks to waive those rules. What's more credible is that this is an announcement that suits the Chancellor because it's free and deliverable (in the sense that it is already being delivered). It's the sort of trick for which the Prime Minister was renowned in his days at No 11.

None of which is to say that it is wrong to make it a priority to get as many of the 1.75 million people without a bank account currently on to the books of the banks as quickly as possible.

In fact, the Government, together with the banking industry, already has a good story to tell on this issue, having halved the number of people without bank accounts in the past five years – and at current rates, the number will halve again in the next five years.

That's important. Not having a bank account is a significant contributory factor in social and financial inequality. It is, for example, one of the basic checks made by credit ratings agencies when they assess applications for anything involving an element of credit. That doesn't have to mean a debt-inflating credit card – it might just be an application to spread the cost of house insurance over a year.

Nor do those without bank accounts have access to the best deals from the big utility companies. Gas and energy suppliers offer cheaper prices to customers who pay their bills by direct debit – so do many phone companies. The bankless therefore pay more for the most basic services.

In other words, the Chancellor is quite right to insist that the banks keep up the good work on tackling financial exclusion. But to pretend this is somehow a new strategy – let alone another payback for the banking crisis on behalf of taxpayers – would be dishonest.

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Senior Project Manager

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Oil & Energy Business Anaylst

£45000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Harrington Sta...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment