'I'm self employed, and normally keep a pounds 50 buffer in the business account as well as extra cash in savings there,' Mrs Tomlins said. 'This time the business account had dipped into the red, but only by pounds 35. Staff did not look at my record, or bother to telephone me.'
NatWest says that if people do not make arrangements in advance, getting their cheques or direct debits returned unpaid remains a risk. 'We cannot switch money between accounts without getting a customer's permission,' a spokesman said. 'If customers let us know there is going to be a temporary problem in advance, we can help them. But we can't take the initiative each time.'
At least one bank takes a different line. Barclays will not impose charges for stopping cheques, if it happens once or twice, though there will be a pounds 25 levy on 'troublesome accounts'. The bank usually allows a 'buffer zone' so that people with a good record for bills will not find transactions bounced if they go into the red by less than pounds 50 or so.
A bit of softening has appeared at Midland. It will charge for bouncing, but no longer makes a second levy for the letter telling people it has done so.
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