B&W passbook in a pear tree finally turns up

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The Independent Online
JUST after Christmas, Denis Sutton decided that he would invest pounds 37,500 in Bristol & West's Balmoral postal account. Seven weeks later, he has just received his passbook.

His experience - as he recounts it - sounds rather like 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' gone wrong. He said: 'I've had 14 phone calls, five promises of phone calls which didn't materialise, seven letters and three fax messages. I'm applying to the Guinness Book of Records.'

Mr Sutton was the subject of an article on these pages three weeks ago, when the delays at the Bristol & West seemed remarkable even then. He was subsequently assured that everything would be sorted out immediately.

Bristol & West has admitted having encountered serious administrative problems in handling the Balmoral, its very popular postal account. The demand and administration were such that savers were having to wait weeks - rather than days - for their passbooks.

Mr Sutton apparently overburdened an already-overburdened administrative system when he introduced the complexity of a power of attorney.

He manages the pounds 37,500 on behalf of his mother under a power of attorney that was granted two years ago. Bristol & West appears not to understand how to deal with this legal instrument. He has several times exercised the power in the past by producing a certificated copy of the document. But Bristol & West seemed totally thrown by the whole subject.

The money in the Balmoral account has been set aside to pay for his mother's upkeep in a residential home. But Mr Sutton has had to start making these payments from his own funds.

Mr Sutton is obviously blessed with a broad sense of humour and was amused last week to receive a customer satisfaction survey from the Bristol & West. The customer care department rang him up three days after it had sent the questionnaire to ask him to return it. This he had already done.

An embarrassed spokesman for Bristol & West said: 'This is certainly not a true picture of the Bristol & West or even a true picture of the Balmoral. It's an exceptional situation which highlights to us the need to continue to strive for improvement.' He assured us, however, that the 'passbook was in the post', and yesterday it finally arrived on Mr Sutton's doormat.

Meanwhile, Mr Sutton and his wife have decided that the rates are so good on Balmoral - currently 7.1 per cent gross on pounds 10,000 investments on the instant access account - that, despite their previous experience, they are opening their own account. They have just sent off the forms. If history repeats itself, the Suttons will get their passbooks around Easter time.

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