Questions of Cash: Can I trust the Post Office to ensure my cheques arrive at my bank?

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The Independent Online

Q. I've been with the Co-operative Bank for more than 30 years. Since they closed my local branch I have to pay cheques into my account at the local Post Office.

Q. I've been with the Co-operative Bank for more than 30 years. Since they closed my local branch I have to pay cheques into my account at the local Post Office. The system seemed fine, until last February, when I discovered that nine cheques, totalling £300, had not been credited to my account. The Co-op Bank said there is no tracking system to monitor deposits made at a Post Office and I must ask all nine people to issue duplicate cheques, which is very embarrassing. Where do I stand legally?
JM, Brighton.

A. The system for making withdrawals and deposits of cash through Post Office branches seems to work fine - cash intended for banks is subject to the same tight procedures as the PO's own money. But we would advise readers against depositing cheques through PO branches for non-Post Office accounts - at least until the PO and banks can offer greater certainty of security. Customers place cheques in envelopes provided by their bank and hand these into PO branches. This is effectively just posting the cheques, but we suspect this may be less reliable than the standard postal service.

Our lack of confidence has been encouraged by claims from the PO that there is an audit trail in place. But it emerges that this "audit trail" is merely that when independent delivery company EDS collects the envelopes for banks, the number of items from each branch is logged. There is no way of monitoring where a customer's cheques have gone. The Post Office said it handles "around 8.5 million transactions of this nature each year" and that it is "extremely rare" for cheques to be lost. It added that the banks are responsible for any problems with processing cheques.

We are also concerned that PO staff sometimes seem unclear about procedures for the cheque deposits. Our view is that readers unable to access their own bank's branches should use PO branches for cash deposits and withdrawals, but ask their bank to provide pre-paid envelopes to post cheques directly to the bank using the normal postal system.

In the case of our reader, we have limited good news. The Co-operative Bank will credit JM of Brighton with a £10 payment for each lost cheque.

It is unclear which party bears legal liability for a financial loss where a cheque has disappeared after being handed into a PO branch and a replacement cheque cannot be obtained - the issue is not covered in the terms and conditions of accounts of either the Co-op or Cahoot.

Q. I recently applied for a new credit card with Mint, requesting a balance transfer of £2,500 to my Marbles account. My Mint card was debited on 3 September, but payment was made to an incorrect account. I have asked Marbles and Mint to sort this out, but without joy.
SH, by e-mail.

A. Mint cards are issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland. RBS apologises for your problems, which it accepts were caused by its error. The bank is offering to recredit your Marbles account with the sum and to provide compensation for any charges you have incurred. It will also credit your account with £100.

Write to Questions of Cash, 'The Independent', 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; e-mail cash@independent.co.uk. We can reply only to letters published. Please send copies, not originals.

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