Abusive bank practices are having serious socioeconomic repercussions, mainly through their impact on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), according to the Central Union of Chambers (KEE). Speaking at an event on «The Protection of Consumers and Borrowers in Bank Transactions» on Thursday, members of a special committee reporting on abusive bank practices claimed that an estimated 25 businessmen have committed suicide and more than 200 have had other serious physical and mental illnesses as a result of being excluded from credit facilities since the introduction last year of the interbank electronic credit rating system Teiresias. The fledgling system is seen as imposing overly stringent lending criteria due to limited data. Nikos Lakiotis, chairman of the committee, said abusive and other, often illegal practices, affect the competitiveness of SMEs and boost unemployment. «If statistical data is correct, about 75 percent of dismissals by about 240,000 SMEs since 1996 have affected employees of bank-stricken SMEs,» he said. The general secretary for Consumer Affairs of the Development Ministry, Athanassios Skordas, acknowledged the problem and announced three government initiatives on the issue. These are: Banks will be required to submit the texts of lending contracts for approval in advance, with a view to ensuring they are compatible with the law and court rulings; a reduction in the length of time that borrowers’ data remains on Teiresias; and the harmonization of legislation on consumer protection to new EU directives. Skordas noted a lack of confidence in banks among the public and called on banks to assume their share of corporate social responsibility. Officials of consumer organization EKPOIZO said collective court action was the best means of defense for bank-stricken customers. They noted that banks have habitually refused to implement court rulings, and called on the government to introduce legislation giving the right to consumer organizations to demand compensation from banks.