Money Grouse: Ethical bank's slip on ethics

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WHEN a bank describes itself as an 'ethical bank', as the Co-operative Bank does, it carries the risk of backfiring.

For Peter Rush, a company director, this is certainly the case. He swapped his Barclaycard for a Co-operative Bank Visa card in April 1993 because of the absence of card fees. 'Another reason was because of its advertised ethical stance,' he says.

'When I received my statements I was surprised to find that every month a debit for variable amounts entitled 'Cardholder Protection Plan'.

'I assumed this was a mistake, since I had signed no mandate nor seen any prospectus for such a plan.'

Mr Rush, from north-east London, finally got round to asking about the charge in August this year. The Co-op then sent him a copy of his application form.

Buried in the form is a clause whereby insurance against unemployment, accident or sickness is provided on any outstanding debt.

Applicants automatically receive this cover, costing 62p per pounds 100 of the balance, unless they tick a box to indicate that they do not want it.

Even more confusing, just below the Cardholder Protection Plan box is another one, aimed at protecting the card itself against loss. This time, however, to obtain the service one has to tick the box to opt in rather than out.

Mr Rush says: 'It seems to me that the Co-operative Bank is unethical to make the ticks for the two extras in opposite ways, so that if they are not looked at carefully the possibility is both will be ticked or unticked in the same way.'

A Co-op spokesman said that the bank changed its policy in April, when the Office of Fair Trading issued new guidelines. Customers must now opt to have the cover rather than not to have it.

'We make it clear in every statement that there is a charge for cover and whenever a customer says he does not want it we do stop the policy,' the spokesman added.

Write to Money Grouse, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB. Please do not send SAEs or original documents as we cannot guarantee to deal with every letter personally.

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