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Businesses worried about delays in resolving 'swaps' dispute

Banks and businesses appear to disagree about whether delays are necessary Photo: ITV News

In 2012, we first reported the suffering being caused to thousands of businesses who had been caught up paying often many thousands of pounds to their banks for so-called ‘interest rate swaps’.

They had been sold policies that were meant to protect them from interest rates rises. But with rates at rock bottom, the swaps actually cost them, and cost them dear.

We revealed the story of one business who believes they were forced into administration by the cost.

Mounting pressure from campaigners - particularly Bully Banks, a group formed to act on this issue - led the City's FCA regulator to set up a compensation scheme.

The scheme took much longer than expected to set up, and although the pace of payouts is now finally picking up, businesses have told ITV News of what they believe to be "underhand tactics" and deliberate delays.

Errol Bland, who has a property company, told us he has lost nearly a million pounds.

Despite ringing the bank three times a week for months on end, he told us "the bank[s] have delayed in every way they can".

He added: "The stress that this puts you under is phenomenal…it’s unacceptable, it gives you sleepless nights."

And delays matter, because unless the firm is eligible for the regulator’s compensation scheme, and many are not, and can agree a deal with their bank, they are only able to take the banks to court to try to get some redress up until six years after the deal was signed.

That matters particularly because many of the ‘swaps’ in dispute were sold in 2007 and 2008. So every week more customers who believe they were mis-sold lose their right to try to get comeback.

Lawyer M. Ali Akram told me: “It is in the bank’s economic interest to delay matters...and allow customers’ legal rights to expire.

"It is my strong belief that the banks are spending millions in the review scheme to save billions of pounds which they truly owe.”

Companies can in theory apply for a standstill agreement that would stop the clock on that six-year time limit, but only by starting legal action which is potentially very expensive. Many of them just aren’t aware of the option.

The debt charity DHA is worried about its survival Credit: ITV News

In Derby, a charity that helps people in financial distress - the DHA - is now on the point of financial distress themselves.

The boss Ian Greste told us: "We are very worried about survival…It’s very difficult when the banks won’t speak to us."

In August, they were told their situation was very close to being resolved, but they still haven’t heard anything more.

Anthony Browne, chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association, told me: "The banks are working to a deadline set by the regulator...but there is a lot of work to be done."

The FCA regulator is speeding up the process now after a very slow start, and they advise businesses that independent legal advice isn’t necessary.

Senior bankers admit it’s taking longer than they would like, but they dispute delays are deliberate.

Yet many businesses do feel that delay is being used as a weapon against them. We’re on familiar turf, where small businesses and banks just don’t trust each other’s version of events.