Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Banks stand accused of treating women customers unfairly

After ripping off their customers and bringing the economy to its knees, Britain's banks now stand accused of rampant sexism.

A report by Noreena Hertz of Duisenberg School of Finance accuses the UK's lenders of stifling female entrepreneurship when it comes to business lending and discriminating against women applying for mortgages.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister was said to be "shocked" and has told the Equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, to examine the problem and take appropriate action.

The report, published by the Institute for Public Policy Research, claims UK female business owners are charged more than equivalent males when seeking bank loans.

Women entrepreneurs also faced tougher grillings over whether they had researched their business idea.

Pregnant women and recent mothers were told to reapply for mortgages when they had returned to work, while other women were quizzed about their "family planning" by banks, Professor Hertz found.

Ms Hertz said: "It's as if we've gone back in time to the 1950s. Banks need to be put on notice that such behaviour is unlawful and unacceptable.

"It is imperative that women be able to play their full part in the economic recovery."

The findings are politically sensitive because female voters are increasingly disaffected with the Coalition and women are disproportionately affected by government job cuts.

Women and Banks: Are Female Customers Facing Discrimination? drew on case studies found on the Mumsnet and moneysupermarket websites, plus follow-up interviews.

The British Bankers' Association said the report was an "unaudited paper, based on a small number of website postings" that did not back up its claims of systemic discrimination.