Cheque clearance times 'baffle bank staff'

More than half of banking staff do not understand how long it takes for a cheque to clear, it was revealed today.

A mystery shopping exercise carried out by the Banking Code Standards Board found that only a third of bank and building society staff knew it took six days before consumers could be confident that a cheque paid into their account could not bounce.

The board said the results, which were worse than when a similar exercise was carried out in 2008, were "disappointing" and it called on the industry to make improvements.

Payments group APACS recently introduced a 'two, four, six', standard to help consumers understand how long cheques take to clear.

Under the rule, people begin to earn interest on a cheque two days after it has been deposited, while they can withdraw the money after four days and be confident that the cheque cannot bounce after six days.

But the research found that only 42 per cent of bank staff who dealt with customers knew that interest could be earned after two days, while just 50 per cent knew the money could be withdrawn after four days.

The biggest area of confusion concerned when a customer could be confident that the money was theirs, with only 33 per cent of bank staff knowing a cheque could not bounce after six days.

Overall, only three out of the 10 banks and nine building societies looked at were given green assessments, compared with 10 when the research was last carried out.

Nine of the providers received amber reports and eight were given red ones, up from seven in 2008.

Robert Skinner, chief executive of the Banking Code Standards Board, said: "It is clearly disappointing that, despite the concerns raised in our last report, we have found customer facing staff, in the majority of cases, unable to provide clear and accurate information to customers on the cheque clearing cycle.

"Our review did not indicate that large numbers of customers are being financially disadvantaged as a result but the industry clearly has work to do in improving the knowledge of front line staff."

He added that the board had made a number of recommendations to the industry and it would be monitoring the action plans produced by firms where shortcomings were identified.

But a review of how banks and building societies handled customer claims for refunds on unauthorised card transactions produced better results.

The board said its review of 11 current account and card providers found the majority of disputed transactions were refunded quickly and customers were not expected to produce unreasonable levels of proof to support their claim.

The Banking Codes are voluntary codes that set out good standards for banks and building societies.

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