Lloyds Banking Group has said it is close to offering compensation to 30 customers caught up in a criminal conspiracy involving former bankers at its HBOS subsidiary.
The bank has already missed its own deadline of 30 June for paying redress to all victims. So far, only five have accepted compensation offers.
MPs and victims have criticised the compensation scheme.
The fraud saw small businesses pressed into hiring “turnaround consultants”.
Two corrupt HBOS bankers pressured the customers into using consultants Quayside Corporate Services, led by David Mills.
He and his accomplices bribed the bankers with cash, gifts and prostitutes, then used their relationship with the bank to bully the business owners into handing over exorbitant fees and, eventually, control of their companies.
The business customers, in the words of a judge, were left “cheated, defeated and penniless”.
After bad publicity following the fraudsters’ convictions in February, Lloyds chairman Lord Blackwell said compensation claims would be handled “within weeks, not months”.
On Friday, the bank published an update on its compensation, saying it was “close to” making 30 offers.
Adrian White, chief operating officer for commercial banking and the man leading the review, said: “We are now continuing to make progress in getting offers to victims of the HBOS Reading fraud. We have now either made offers or are in the detailed assessment stage for nearly half the victims in the review. It is important we get the fullest possible information from victims to ensure we can factor in everything that could contribute to their compensation offer.”
But so far only 16 compensation offers have been made – and many more were caught up in the fraud.
The banker at the heart of the fraud, Lynden Scourfield, was in charge of supervising accounts for more than 250 small business customers.
Victims of the fraud have criticised the bank for seeking to dictate the terms of its compensation scheme rather than seek their approval.
They were not asked to agree the bank’s appointment of Professor Russel Griggs to review its compensation offers.
They have also been unsettled after a senior Lloyds executive claimed the bank had no evidence of criminality until the fraudsters’ trial began in 2016.
The small business customers who uncovered the fraud, Paul and Nikki Turner, sent detailed allegations of fraud to the board of HBOS in 2007, attaching documentary evidence later used in the 2016 trial.
They sent further evidence to every member of Lloyds’ board in 2009. At the time Lloyds dismissed their evidence and instead spent large sums on lawyers seeking to evict the Turners.
It has also emerged that Lloyds conducted internal reviews into the conduct of Mr Scourfield and others as far back as 2006.
In April, Lloyds Banking Group appointed Dame Linda Dobbs, a former high court judge, to review the bank’s handling of the fraud, which took place from 2002-2007, in the years before the trial in 2016.
During this time the bank consistently refused to say anything in public or acknowledge criminality. However, victims of the fraud have not yet been contacted in relation to the review.
MPs say they’re concerned the bank’s compensation scheme lacks transparency and independence. The bank will not show victims who is deciding their compensation offer, or reveal how it is worked out.
Lord Cromwell, chair of the all party parliamentary group on fair business banking, said: “There appears to be a lack of transparency, and therefore a lack of public confidence, in the processes set up unilaterally by Lloyds for assessment and settlement of claims.
“Inevitably this creates suspicion and we are hoping that Lloyds will now accept our repeated invitations to make the processes – including the nuts and bolts of valuing claims – far more open to assessment by victims and their advisers. Without that it is hard to see how this matter can end other than in bitterness and litigation.”
Shadow business minister, Bill Esterson, said: “The victims of the HBOS Reading Fraud deserve to be treated in a fair and transparent manner. It is clear from the concerns that have been raised with me that this is not happening, and the Bank must be held to account.
“Any process of compensation must be transparent and beyond reproach, yet the details of the scheme as described to me provide no comfort that this is the case.
“Businesses in the UK deserve to have confidence that we are doing everything we can to support them when things go wrong, and it appears to me that there is a massive systemic failure when Banks are allowed to be their own judge, jury and executioner behind closed doors. This must change.”