Consumer Rights: Don't just grumble about your bank's service - switch!

Too many of us accept shoddy care, believing it's too much hassle to move accounts, but new rules will make it even easier

Liz Barclay

If you're fed up with your bank because it's paying astronomical bonuses to its top dogs, has sold you a payment protection insurance pup, or has been fiddling the Libor figures, register your discontent and switch. The Government is determined that from September it will be a hassle free, seamless process.

We're apathetic about looking for better banking services and the banks rely on our impassive loyalty. The vast majority of us haven't been into a branch for months; don't have to use the dreaded call centre as often as we used to; and find online transactions simple. So even though we rant to friends about the big bad banks we rarely do anything about it.

But just because you're not spending your lunch break in a queue or being outwitted by a musical switch board doesn't mean you're getting the best possible service. If the latest overdraft charges have tipped you over the edge switch. The more of us who switch the more chance there is that it will finally dawn on the banks that what we really, really want is better service.

Switching is almost certainly already easier than you think and from September customers should be able to demand their account be transferred to a rival bank within a week with direct debit payments all set up and ready to go.

The hardest part of switching can be choosing a new bank. After all they seem to be as bad as each other when it comes to customer care. Think carefully about your banking needs. If you use branches do some mystery shopping to see what the queues are like at the times you're most likely to pop in. Check out the website, ask friends and family, consider whether the values and principles match your own, consider smaller organisations, building societies, new banks coming into the market, credit unions. Check out interest rates and overdraft charges. Beware of banks bearing gifts and don't be dazzled by offers.

Once you've decided which bank to go for apply to open an account. Tell the new bank that you're switching. There's a process they must follow and they should give you a guide that explains how it all works. Most banks have switching teams to do the work. They will want ID – a passport or driving licence to prove you are who you say you are, and a bill to prove where you live. It's really annoying to have to go through these ID checks each time but they're part of the money laundering regulations that the banks have to comply with.

Think through exactly what you want from your new account. Do you intend to move your balance over and close your old account? Do you have an overdraft on your account? If you've been using it responsibly even that may not stop you switching. It can be useful to keep a bit of money in the old account until the new one is up and running and then close it down.

You will also need to move standing orders and direct debits and it's important to time that so that none of those payments get missed or paid late. Decide on the best date to switch and agree that with your new bank. If your direct debits and standing orders all come out of your account around the same date, time the switch to take place just after that. Otherwise go for a date when fewer transactions are made. Your new bank will ask your old bank for a list of all the direct debits and standing orders. Your new bank will tell the various companies you pay that the payments will come from them in future and give them your new account details.

Your new bank will also give you template letters you can use to use to let people who pay you – such as your employer and pension provider – know about the change.

Once all of your regular payments have been switched, your new bank will ask your old bank to cancel your old direct debits and standing orders, transfer any balance and close the old account. It really should be that straightforward and should take around three weeks. If something goes wrong and you lose money because of a mistake on the part of one of the banks they should reimburse you straight away.


Q: My wife is very ill and we've been told that she could have as little as three months left to live.

We discussed the likely deterioration of her health with her consultant and it's possible that she could become too ill to have a say in her treatment or to be able to manage her own affairs such as bills and accounts.

She wants me to be able to make decisions on her behalf but she's worried that other people won't accept those decisions and will ignore my views.

Does she need a living will or should she give me power of attorney? How do we go about drawing up these documents and do we need solicitor which we can't really afford?

We need to get this sorted out fairly quickly.

Name and address withheld

A: I am sorry to hear about your wife but you are doing the right thing in making sure her wishes are clear before she can no longer express them.

In a living will (or advance decision) your wife can set out her wishes about her treatment at various stages in her illness and doctors must act on this. It's difficult to envisage all the decisions that might have to be made but there are template living wills she can use. There is also the advance statement which allows your wife to express wishes about her food, religious beliefs, but these have no legal standing.

A lasting power of attorney gives you the authority to make decisions on your wife's behalf. Assuming it has been decided you are to have that power this is the route to go down. However, your wife must be able to make decisions when she fills in the forms.

There are two types of lasting power of attorney. Your wife can choose to make one or both. If she chooses to give you the power to make health and welfare decisions, things like her medical care, moving into a hospice or nursing home, refusing treatment, you will only have those powers once she can no longer make her own decisions. If she also gives you power to make financial decisions you can make those at any time.

A lasting power of attorney is only valid once it's registered with the Office of the Public Guardian. Each costs £130 to register. There is information on the website, from where you can download the forms or ask for them to be posted to you. This is a lot of money but you can fill the forms in yourself which will make it cheaper than using a solicitor.

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