Co-op referred to OFT: Maria Scott reports concern over a rule change that reduces the time in which cardholders are allowed to pay their bills

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The Independent Online
THE OFFICE of Fair Trading is to be asked to investigate changes in Co- operative Bank credit card rules.

Concern among Co-op customers over the way the rules of their cards have been changed - reducing by 10 days the time they have to pay their bills - have been highlighted by the Independent.

Now the London Borough of Barnet's trading standards service has received a similar complaint and intends to take it up with the OFT.

Graham Hammond, trading standards officer, said he would write to the OFT asking if it has received similar complaints and if it would take the matter up with the bank. He said he would also seek the OFT's opinion on whether the bank had been fair to customers.

Earlier this year the bank launched a credit card, called the Robert Owen card, that promised never to charge a fee. But customers who want to pay their bills in full must do so within 15 days of their statement date instead of the 25 days allowed under a traditional credit card and under the Co- op's Classic card.

About 100,000 Classic customers were switched to the Robert Owen card. The bank maintains that it wrote to these people explaining the change and giving them the opportunity to say 'no' to the switch. But some have complained that they do not recall receiving the information.

They were hit by interest charges on their accounts when they paid their bills late, unaware of the shorter deadline. The Co-op has refunded money to two such customers.

A further 100,000 people with charity-linked credit cards from the Co-op have also been switched to Robert Owen cards recently.

The Co-op Bank said that the shorter payment period should not be inconvenient for customers because the bank offered the chance to pay their bills off in full by variable direct debit.

'The bank is one of the few to give customers the option of paying off the entire monthly credit card balance by direct debit,' it said. 'This is designed to be the best way to avoid inadvertent borrowing through late payment.'

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