Questions Of Cash: Banks loom large in our sack of complaints

Readers send in dozens of emails each month to this column – sometimes seeking advice or information, but mostly complaining about financial services companies and other service providers. We cannot guarantee success, but we probably get a good result for the majority of readers who contact us.

Banks are the most common target for complaints. And it is noticeable that more criticisms come our way about Santander than about any other bank.

But it is not just the complaints that count: it is also how a bank deals with them. Santander has told us it recognises there are weaknesses in the customer relations systems at the banks they have taken over – Abbey and Alliance & Leicester – and they want to put this right. Santander's willingness to offer reasonable compensation terms to readers who contact us is a promising sign.

We are more disappointed with the two major banks rescued with public money: RBS and the Lloyds Group. Both tend to take a tougher line when it comes to settling complaints.

One customer of Lloyds and Halifax has been in contact with us for several years trying to get the banks to recognise that he had moved home to the Philippines. Lloyds apparently lost the original notification of change of address and it then became a saga to try to get the address details changed on the Lloyds' and Halifax systems. Eventually the matter went to the Financial Ombudsman – and then we had to get involved again to arrange for the compensation specified by the Ombudsman to be paid into the reader's account.

In another case, parents of a reader bought equipment from a company that has since ceased trading following media allegations of improper practices. The reader believes that the equipment supplied was not as specified. But his parents returned the goods saying they had changed their minds and the company folded soon after. Lloyds have taken the view that as the goods were not rejected as faulty it will not seek to recover the payment through the Visa chargeback system. We are encouraging Lloyds to change its mind – otherwise the case will go to the Financial Ombudsman.

Lloyds' HBOS division also performed very badly when it lost a reader's passport. Its mail office failed to make a serious effort to trace our reader before destroying her passport. Halifax has been more helpful when it comes to settling complaints about the administration of ISAs – and there have been several complaints during the year. Nationwide has also had more than its share of ISA grievances.

Fraud has been another cause of increasing criticisms of banks and building societies. These seem to have taken a tougher line, arguing that the onus is on customers to prevent fraud. HSBC is one of the banks that had told a reader she must bear the loss from a fraud, but relented after we contacted it.

HSBC impressed us more in a holiday dispute, when it provided compensation for a customer where it had no legal obligation to do so. The daughter of a reader paid First Choice for a holiday as part of a group. When the lead passenger dropped out and another lead passenger took her place, our reader's daughter found herself dumped from the party – despite paying First Choice for her holiday. First Choice was steadfast that as it had no legal duty to compensate our reader's daughter, it would not do so. Unable to find out who the new lead passenger now was, it was only HSBC's generosity that saved our reader's daughter from losing £386, as well as her holiday.

Grievances about holidays and flight delays have increasingly become a common reason for readers to contact this column. In many cases, this is because airlines have been slow to make repayments for flights cancelled because of the Icelandic ash clouds. Slow processing of refunds has been a particular problem for easyJet customers – it had a bad year with its IT systems.

But one company stands out for the number of complaints it generates: CarphoneWarehouse. Readers were especially upset at the way CarphoneWarehouse closed down its Fresh Mobile subsidiary: many customers had difficulty in recovering pre-paid credit balances, unless they transferred to a sister operator. There is nothing new about complaints about CarphoneWarehouse: it has been the butt of complaints to this column for year after year.

Sadly, even the demerger of the TalkTalk operation from CarphoneWarehouse has not reduced the flow of complaints. TalkTalk – which has taken over Tiscali, another company readers have been frustrated with – has proven less helpful in resolving complaints. We hope that the promise of TalkTalk's new chief executive to prioritise improvement to customer services is realised.

A few words of apology, though. Not every complaint can be successfully resolved by us. In particular, those adventurous travellers who end up on the other side of the world out-of-pocket may find they never get the compensation they deserve. Readers are frustrated when they find it impossible to communicate with small airlines that operate in out-of-the-way places, whose head office staff do not speak English and who ignore all written communications. So do we!

But the reader whose son's holiday was disrupted when an angry ticket inspector ripped up his international train pass should know that we have not given up – despite the language barrier.

This is one of many occasions where progress is slow. Sometimes it can take months, or even, unfortunately, years to resolve readers' problems. So please bear with us. Those readers (and there are many) who expect to receive full satisfaction within two or three days of contacting us are likely to be disappointed. If a solution were that easy, the reader would have had no need to contact us.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@

Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
peopleJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Technical BA - Banking - Bristol - £400pd

    £400 per hour: Orgtel: Technical Business Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £400pd...

    Account Management Strategy Manager

    £38000 - £42000 per annum + competitive: Real Staffing: Required skills:Previo...

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice