A split is emerging among Britain's biggest banks over attempts to secure a deadline for consumers to file claims that they were mis-sold payment protection inurance (PPI) policies.
I have learnt that at least one of the major high street banks is having second thoughts about an industry-wide campaign to 'time-bar' PPI complaints, and is likely to pressure the industry lobbying group to abandon the effort in the coming weeks.
The British Bankers' Association (BBA) has been in talks with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) for several months about imposing a cut-off point for claims in an attempt to provide some certainty on the industry's vast compensation bill.
A number of banks, however, are sceptical about the initiative following a hostile reaction from many consumer lobbying groups, many of which have argued that a deadline would be unjust given the scale of mis-selling which took place over many years.
One of the sceptics is understood to have argued privately that the need for a time-barring exercise has diminished because the trend for PPI claims is slowing month-by-month.
Already, the four biggest banks (Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) , HSBC (LSE: HSBA.L - news) , Lloyds Banking Group (LSE: LLOY.L - news) and Royal Bank of Scotland (LSE: RBS.L - news) ) have set aside well over £11bn to compensate customers, with analysts estimating that the eventual bill could as much as double before the flood of historical claims comes to a halt.
A decision by one or more of the major banks to break ranks would deal a devastating blow to efforts to present a unified approach by the banking industry.
Lloyds is by far the most exposed of the big high street banks to the PPI scandal, having accounted for not far short of half the total sum set aside by the big four lenders.
Earlier this month, Barclays added £600m to its compensation bill, and the rest of the industry is expected to follow suit with additional provisions alongside annual results during the next three weeks.
The BBA said: "We are working with our members on a number of aspects of PPI complaints. The ongoing work focuses on three issues as a priority: addressing backlogs, making sure that customers can be confident that the offers they receive are right and highlighting that there is no need for them to engage a claims management company.
"Discussions with the FSA to clarify the parameters of their complaints handling guidance are ongoing. We are unable to comment further at this stage."
Last month, the City regulator said it had agreed to talks with the industry about a time limit, but would insist that the banks funded a huge advertising campaign to ensure sufficient awareness of the PPI issue.
"Our key priority is to ensure consumers are protected, so the FSA Board would need to be convinced that any proposals would be in the interests of consumers. We have had initial discussions and are prepared to consider the merits of this and other options. A key consideration will be the potential to get compensation to more consumers, more quickly.
"We will continue to hold discussions with the BBA as well as actively seeking the opinions of consumer groups and other stakeholders. However, no changes to existing FSA, or future Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), rules would take place without a full public consultation."