New bill to aid savers over society windfalls

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The Independent Online
BUILDING societies face being banned from offering "second-class" deposit accounts that exclude savers from membership and windfall payouts under new Government legislation.

The move, aimed at clearing up confusion on the status of different accounts, would increase thousands of savers' chances of qualifying for future windfalls on takeovers or flotations.

The plan is part of the new Building Societies Bill to be published next month for consultation. It comes as societies move against "carpet baggers" opening speculative new membership accounts.

All mainstream accounts for new savers would carry membership rights if the proposal became law. For example, Alliance & Leicester's only mainstream savings account still open - Prime Deposit - does not carry membership.

It says savers would not benefit from flotation plans.

However, the proposal almost certainly comes too late for qualifying with A&L, which is expected to announce a Woolwich-style share handout in the next few weeks. The bill is not expected to become law until 1997. And, according to the Building Societies Association, the change will not be retrospective. Offshore and cheque accounts would still not confer membership.

Both A&L and Britannia closed membership accounts to new savers last week, while Bristol & West and Northern Rock raised minimum opening investments to pounds 2,500. Meanwhile, Bradford & Bingley said it was producing a strongly worded sign for branches saying it had no intention of paying a windfall.