A new, free and independent service to help small businesses resolve disputes with their banks has opened today. 

The Business Banking Resolution Service (BBRS) will use alternative dispute resolution techniques to settle unresolved complaints from larger SMEs with seven participating banks, who make up the majority of the business banking market.

It is hoped that the BBRS will also give SMEs added confidence to take out loans and other business banking products and services, knowing that, if something goes wrong, they have a route to independent resolution.

The service has been two years in the making and has been set up on a voluntary basis with small business groups and banks working together. It comes after a sustained campaign by SMEs, who have argued for a wider means of resolving disputes.

The BBRS will work to settle unresolved complaints from customers of the financial institutions who have signed up. The banks are: Barclays Bank plc and Barclays Bank UK plc; Danske Bank; HSBC UK Bank plc; Lloyds Banking Group (Lloyds Bank plc and Bank of Scotland plc); NatWest Group (including The Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, National Westminster Bank plc, Coutts & Company and Ulster Bank Ltd (Northern Ireland)); Santander UK plc; and Virgin Money (including Clydesdale Bank plc and Yorkshire Bank).

It is hoped that more banks will join in future.

BBRS decision-making is led by Alexandra Marks CBE, Chief Adjudicator and a Deputy High Court Judge, who will be able to decide cases on the basis of what is fair and reasonable in the particular circumstances of each case.

The service has been designed to be easy to access, empathetic and flexible in its approach. Each business using the BBRS will have a "Customer Champion", who will act as a guide to the service and how to use it.

From today, the BBRS will look at two types of unresolved complaint:

  • The contemporary scheme covers cases for the period from 1 April 2019 onwards: it is for businesses with a turnover up to £10m per annum, and total assets up to £7.5m, and which are not eligible to take their complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
  • The historical scheme covers cases for the period from 1 December 2001 to 31 March 2019: it is for businesses with a turnover up to £6.5m per annum, and total assets up to £5m, and which were not eligible to take their complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service and have not had access to an independent review.

The BBRS estimates that up to 5,000-6,000 cases will be registered over a three-year period for the historical scheme. It has engaged the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) to provide flexible case-handling capacity to support the delivery of the service alongside its own in-house team.

BBRS independent chair, Lewis Shand Smith, said: "I am delighted the service is now fully operational. The BBRS will enhance SME and banking relationships by giving larger SMEs a free and easy to use dispute resolution service."

David Postings, chief executive of UK Finance, the banks’ trade body which helped set up the BBRS, said: "The launch of the BBRS today delivers a new resolution service that is trusted, transparent and fair and follows considerable positive engagement from all groups involved. The BBRS is a groundbreaking service for larger-sized SMEs, with an unparalleled scope, mandate and level of expertise. Now 99% of small businesses will have access to this new resolution service or to the Financial Ombudsman Service."

For more information see thebbrs.org/