UK watchdog to probe bank demands for personal guarantees from small firms

Credit: REUTERS/Chris Helgren

By Kirstin Ridley

LONDON, March 5 (Reuters) - Britain's markets regulator will investigate whether small businesses are facing unnecessary barriers to growth because they are increasingly facing bank demands for personal guarantees when they seek loans.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said on Tuesday the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), a consumer body, had reported that lenders' growing demands for personal guarantees was hurting small businesses and dissuading them from borrowing.

The FCA, which has pledged to support small businesses but whose remit does not include lending to limited companies, promised to remove barriers to growth if necessary. It did not provide further details.

Small and medium-sized businesses accounted for three-fifths of jobs and around half of the turnover in Britain's private sector in 2023, the FSB has said. Small businesses with fewer than 50 staff employed 13.1 million last year in companies with a combined turnover of 1.6 trillion pounds ($2.03 trillion).

The Finance & Leasing Association, a trade body for lenders, said it would work with the FCA to ensure it understood "the context" of the guarantees. Its latest research showed that only in 2% of cases were the personal guarantees of business owners enforced to settle business debts in 2023, it said.

The FCA said it would collect data from April to June 2024 to check the number of personal guarantees in place for sole traders and small partnerships borrowing less than 25,000 pounds ($31,713).

It will also monitor complaints, review when such guarantees are required and consider whether it needs to consult on and publish guidance.

Should problems identified fall outside its remit, the FCA said it planned to make these public so that the government could consider whether greater protection should be available to small businesses, which were "vital to the UK economy".

($1 = 0.7890 pounds)

(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Sharon Singleton)

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