Banks are putting profits before human life and using a range of tactics to lure people deeper into debt, a senior industry executive has claimed.
The insider - a former key decision maker in lending policy and strategy at the headquarters of one the UK's big five banks - said debt related suicides were the cost of irresponsible lending practices. She called for new laws to be introduced so that criminal charges could be brought against banks that could be shown to have lent money irresponsibly.
During the past two years there have been eight reported cases where people have taken their own lives after their debts have spiralled out of control.
But the whistleblower said the true scale of the problem was hard to assess, and there were more cases of debt-related suicide that the public did not hear about. She said: "These tragic cases where people have taken their own lives are the cost that is paid for irresponsible lending practices. This is exactly why the banks need to be curbed.
"These suicides have been an inconvenience to the industry as a whole, and they have exposed the practices the banking industry has got away with for years and years and years. The banks are basically neglecting their duty of care. They are putting profits before human life."
The programme features the case of a man who killed himself in 2005 having run up debts of nearly £120,000 with one bank through credit cards, loans and through remortgaging his home, despite earning only £26,000.
The whistleblower, whose identity is being kept secret due to fears of legal action - said the industry called customers like these "revolvers", and they were keen to retain them as they were more likely to pay penalty fees as a result of going over their credit limit.
She also said banks used sophisticated marketing and financial targeting to get people to borrow more.
She said some banks increased consumers' credit limits without their consent, looking at their spending patterns to see if they were normally close to their maximum limit.
She said these unsolicited increases could take place up to twice a year, and people's credit limits could literally double in the space of two years without the customer having any say in it.