Britons face the introduction of charges to use cash machines and write cheques, it is claimed today.
Analysts Datamonitor claim it is only a matter of time before free banking, as British consumers know it, is abandoned.
The introduction of up-front charges for the right to have a current account is being speeded by a court case investigating the legality of punishing overdraft charges, it is claimed.
The Office of Fair Trading is locked in a battle with the big banks to try to get rid of penalty charges for breaching an overdraft limit or a bounced cheque.
If successful, the OFT case could see millions of bank customers given the right to reclaim billions of pounds in refunds from the banks for charges dating back six years.
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Such a move would severely dent the finances of the high street banks at a time when they are trying to cope with huge losses from bad foreign investments.
Datamonitor believes the banks would try to shore up their finances by moving to a system of monthly charges – perhaps £5 to £20 a month – on current accounts.
As in the United States, the fee would guarantee a minimum level of service, such as a fixed number of cash machine withdrawals, cheques or direct debits per month.