It Girl Tamara Beckwith, 52, shares her ‘sheer outrage’ after NatWest closed her business account without explanation – joining thousands of others to have suffered the same fate
- MoS investigation reveals that her ‘Orwellian’ case is just the tip of the iceberg
- Ms Beckwith was locked out of her account for business The Little Black Gallery
- Read: What pay rise will you need to keep up with inflation? Try this calculator
The bank account for Tamara Beckwith’s gallery business has been closed without warning or explanation by NatWest – making the former It Girl the latest of thousands of account-holders with the banking giant to suffer the same fate.
A Mail on Sunday investigation today reveals that her ‘Orwellian’ case is just the tip of an iceberg.
Across all banks, complaints of closed business accounts are steadily rising each year, figures uncovered by this newspaper show.
Ms Beckwith told the MoS of her ‘sheer outrage’ at waking up last Monday to find herself locked out of the account for The Little Black Gallery, a photography business selling portraits of celebrities including Kate Moss and Audrey Hepburn.
She founded the gallery with her friend, celebrity publicist Ghislain Pascal, in 2008, banking with NatWest ever since as they built it into a £500,000-a-year business. But last Monday they found the account no longer existed.
The bank account for Tamara Beckwith’s (pictured) gallery business has been closed without warning or explanation by NatWest
A Mail on Sunday investigation today reveals that her ‘Orwellian’ case is just the tip of an iceberg. Pictured: Ms Beckwith’s The Little Black Gallery
By Jeff Prestridge, Group Wealth & Personal Finance Editor
Banks do some horrible things. They close our local branch, rip out cash machines with gay abandon, and pay us a pittance on our savings. But nothing is more wicked than when they decide our custom is no longer welcome. Without rhyme or reason, they can serve notice on us that our bank account will be closed, or terminated, plunging our finances and lives into chaos.
Orwellian? Yes. Kafkaesque? Absolutely. Unfair? Too right. But what makes it all even more deplorable and outrageous is that the biggest offender (NatWest) is still partially owned by the state – yes, that’s me and you.
Although the closure of Tamara Beckwith’s business account by NatWest is by far the most high-profile to date, this draconian banking practice has been going on for more than four years. And despite attempts to get the offending banks to explain why they are acting so brutally, they continue with the practice. They don’t explain the closures to customers. They don’t apologise for them, and nor are they prepared to enlighten journalists when they demand explanations.
Indeed, I believe the stance of the banks on account closures – NatWest in particular – has hardened as time has gone by. The result is that they now put up a wall of silence when reasons for closures are sought. I first came across account closures more than four years ago when I met a father whose daughter had her account closed by NatWest.
Despite employing solicitors, her plea to have the account reopened fell on deaf ears. On this occasion, my intervention was successful, with NatWest overturning its decision and apologising. But since then, I’ve had no joy whatsoever when taking up the cudgels on behalf of other NatWest customers.
Of course, I understand that some bank accounts have to be closed when money-laundering or fraud is suspected. Yet it seems that a sledgehammer is being used to crack a nut. As a result, thousands of innocent bank customers are being disenfranchised every year.
Surely, it’s time for the City regulator to look into this issue and assess whether greater transparency on account closures is now needed (the answer is a resounding yes).
And maybe the Treasury Select Committee could set the ball rolling on Tuesday when it grills bosses of the big banks over some of the naughty things they are doing. After all, nothing is naughtier than unexplained bank account closures.
Mr Pascal called NatWest, who said it had been closed and they were not legally obliged to say why. NatWest said a letter was sent to them on November 30 warning of the closure and giving them 60 days to find a new bank. Neither Ms Beckwith nor Mr Pascal received a letter. They suspect it was lost amid the postal strikes leading up to Christmas.
With the account containing thousands of pounds frozen, the gallery has been unable to trade or pay its artists. Ms Beckwith told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I am perplexed. I just don’t understand how one day you can access your bank account as normal and the next day you find it has been closed. It’s just so rude and frustrating.
‘Even more outrageously, there is no explanation. If we can’t access our funds, we can’t trade as a business. We’re completely paralysed.’
She added: ‘NatWest’s complete refusal to tell us why they closed the account made me feel sheer outrage. Where’s the loyalty? It’s just so disrespectful. They’re a faceless corporation.
‘In the old days you would storm into the branch and speak to your bank manager, but now you get a bunch of people staring at computers and reading off cue cards telling you, “Sorry, you’re not with us any longer, ciao.” ’
Mr Pascal describes the situation as ‘Kafkaeqsue’ and ‘Orwellian’.
The Facebook group NatWest Closed Down My Account now has 8,600 members. One customer, Samantha Jennings, 55, from Essex, was baffled when NatWest froze her personal account on December 9.
When she contacted the bank, it claimed to have sent a letter warning of the closure on October 4. She said she did not receive it – but that changed nothing.
She is still unable to access £37,000 that was frozen in the account.
Last week, she received a letter from NatWest warning her two business accounts for her buy- to-let business, containing about £15,000, will be closed down. She told the MoS: ‘It’s despicable what they are doing to innocent people.’
The Government owns nearly half of NatWest. Boss Alison Rose is due to receive a damehood after being listed in King Charles’s first New Year’s Honours before Christmas.
NatWest is not the only bank to be accused of closing accounts without warning.
Experts suspect the closures result from top banks trying to be stricter on money-laundering after a series of embarrassing fines. HSBC was fined £64 million in December 2021 by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for failing to properly check for money laundering.
The Financial Ombudsman Service provided figures about grievances over business account closures.
For the year to the end of March 2020, there were 196, which rose to 359 for 2021 and 376 for 2022. With 343 already in the ten months from last April, this year will be higher still if complaints come in at the same rate.
The MoS contacted NatWest about The Little Black Gallery on Thursday. The next day, the gallery was told the account had been unfrozen for 60 days while they found a new bank.
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