Opinion  

Bank surcharge tax? The feeling’s mutual

Bank surcharge tax? The feeling’s mutual

Fees and taxes for companies operating in the financial world can at times appear to punish good behaviour, while bad or negligent behaviour results in barely a slap on the wrist.

Bad advisers have, time and time again, shut up shop and thrown their liabilities on to the financial services compensation scheme.

Building societies were expected to foot a disproportionate amount of the bill when banks collapsed and their savers were rescued.

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Now the new bank surcharge tax is set to hit building societies smack on the jaw again.

Panicked by HSBC’s threat to leave the UK, the chancellor devised an alternative method of raising money to soothe the big banks.

Grannies, grandads and all the other ordinary folk who are members of building societies will be left to foot the bill.

Nationwide’s chief executive has spelled out precisely how much he expects the new tax – an 8 per cent tax surcharge on profits of more than £25m a year – to cost the building society: £300m over the next five years.

So Nationwide’s 14m UK members will pay the bill – while HSBC’s directors and international shareholders nod happily in recognition of their victory.

What have building society members done to deserve this?

Let us examine some figures. As of November 2013, building societies carried outstanding balances of £216bn. Banks carried £833bn.

Throughout the past two years, building societies’ net lending has been well beyond their market share, expanding their overall balances.

In the first six months of this year they accounted for a 57 per cent share of net lending – not bad for a sector which in terms of outstanding balances is still around three-quarters the size of Lloyds Bank, at £303bn.

Nationwide’s chief executive Graham Beale has pointed out that 80 per cent of net mortgage lending over the five years to March 2015 was from the mutual sector.

You and I realise how important this net lending is to stimulating the housing market and getting new buyers on the ladder and existing ones up it.

Perhaps this has escaped our normally bright as a button chancellor?

The mutuals looked after their own during the banking crisis. Not for them the massive bailouts given to Lloyds and RBS.

Several building societies, including Yorkshire Building Society and challenger banks, have asked the government to protect them from the new tax.

They have a strong argument, because they have done precisely as the government asked in creating more competition and continuing to lend.

No one wants to see HSBC up sticks and head for Hong Kong.

But that is no excuse for punishing institutions who have stuck by their borrowers and savers through the financial crisis with a punitive tax bill.

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