British lawmakers check on how banks are treating small businesses during pandemic

© Reuters. Canary Wharf stands in London

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s top banks may face action to make it easier for small businesses to open a bank account, British lawmakers said on Tuesday, after companies complained about lenders as they struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mel Stride, the chair of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee, said he has written to Natwest, Barclays (LON:), Metro Bank, HSBC, Santander (MC:) and Lloyds (LON:) to ask if they have changed their criteria for opening business accounts since the pandemic began.

Lawmakers want to know by May 19 whether waiting times for opening an account have increased, how complaints are handled, and whether lenders are planning to withdraw from the small business market.

“It’s critical that these institutions are adapting to the requirements of small and medium sized enterprises as the economy starts to pick up,” Stride said in a statement.

“The Committee wants to know more about the state of the business current account market, and whether action needs to be taken to mitigate the difficulties faced by SMEs.”

Martin McTague, national vice chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said in February that a situation where firms are unable to open accounts is extremely damaging to the small business community and the economy.

“The different actors in this space – government, lenders and regulators – need to work together to provide a guaranteed route through which businesses can open accounts,” McTague said at the time.

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