What is it?
The bank levy is a tax on bank liabilities. It was introduced in 2011 following the financial crisis as a way to charge banks for the implicit bailout guarantee they enjoyed from the government. There is a standard rate, originally planned to be 0.075 per cent but subsequently repeatedly raised to 0.21 per cent on long-term liabilities together with a short-term liabilities rate of half the standard rate.
From January 2021, the bank levy no longer applied to non-UK liabilities of UK banks, removing a distortion favouring non-UK banks (who already only pay on their UK liabilities). The rate also fell to 0.1 per cent for liabilities of less than one year and 0.05 per cent for those greater than one year.
What’s the problem with it?
Research from the Bank of International Settlements has shown that the bank levy in its first iteration has prompted banks to shift risks on balance sheets from liabilities to assets. It has also shown that total risk reductions have been concentrated on low risk institutions which pose little or no threat to financial stability with little change among riskier banks. Following the crash, banks were already reducing both their assets and liabilities to increase their margin for error. This led to lower than expected receipts from the levy, which in turn prompted repeated increases in the rate between 2011 and 2015. This suggests that the rate was not set for the economically neutral reason of pricing risks to taxpayers but instead to raise revenues from an electorally unpopular target. Reductions in both rates were introduced from 2016.
Fundamentally, the regulatory approach of strengthening powers of the Bank of England to wind up failing banks is a better tool for managing risks to taxpayers from banks. Full regulatory powers to ensure that bank losses fall on shareholders and bondholders instead of taxpayers, often called a ‘bail-in’, would mean there is no longer a justification for a specific tax on banking. Given the importance of banking, financial and business services in general to the British economy, the best tax and regulatory approach to manage the specific risks from the sector is important.
What should be done?
The bank levy should be abolished. Bail-in and wind-up powers should be set to ensure no remaining risks are left with taxpayers and the bank levy should be abolished when this objective has been met.
 Office for Budget Responsibility, Bank levy, 2022, https://obr.uk/forecasts-in-depth/tax-by-tax-spend-by-spend/bank-levy/, (accessed 7 November 2022).
 Gambacorta, L., et al, BIS Working Papers No 611: The effects of tax on bank liability structure, Bank for International Settlements, February 2017.
 HM Revenue & Customs, HMRC internal manual: Bank Levy Manual: BKLM160000 – Introduction: the rate of the bank levy, October 2022, www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/bank-levy-manual/bklm160000, (accessed 7 November 2022).