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Spend & Save

Questions of Cash: ‘Does customer loyalty mean nothing to Barclays?’

Q. In September, I overdrew by £10 at Barclays for less than a day and was charged £22. It was the first time in 36 years I’d made an error. The local manager said she no longer had discretion and that the charge was fixed. I wrote to head office about customer loyalty, but it seems this no longer exists. SG, Newcastle.

A. Barclays says it wrote to you in June to explain changes in its charging structure from August, but you apparently did not receive this letter. The new terms offer a “personal reserve service”, which “provides customers with their own reserve” to use in emergencies if they go overdrawn. Making it seem good news, Barclays says “customers only pay for this service when it is used, and then all they pay is a Reserve Usage Fee of £22 for the first five consecutive working days”. It still means you’ve been charged £22 for going overdrawn by £10 for a few hours. This sounds to us like an excessive overdraft penalty by another name. Barclays is not prepared to withdraw the charge.

Q. I recently opened a one-year bond with the Anglo Irish Bank, which has just been nationalised by the Irish government. I read in Questions of Cash last Saturday that the bank was only ever “partially covered” by the UK’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Anglo Irish’s literature in December stated only that it was a member of the FSCS. Its website also claimed membership of the FSCS, with a link to the UK’s FSCS website. I emailed the FSCS seeking clarification of Anglo Irish’s membership, using its “contact us” box, but received no reply. The situation was ambiguous until Anglo Irish sent letters to customers this month, saying it was no longer a member of the FSCS. I was given an English address to send my cheque to Anglo Irish, which I thought made it equivalent to an English bank branch. Is there any greater degree of safety for depositors now that the bank has been nationalised? I thought the issue of compensation had been settled, but apparently not. MM, Newcastle.

A. The situation on savings guarantees is certainly complex – especially with banks regulated in another EU country, with UK offices. Primary regulation remains the responsibility of their home regulator, rather than the UK’s Financial Services Authority. Compensation schemes for UK customers of these European banks is the same as in their home territory, except where the UK provides higher levels of support, in which case the guarantee is “topped up” to the UK level. In the case of the Irish banks, this meant that the UK’s FSCS ceased to be relevant in November when the Irish government adopted a higher guarantee than that of the FSCS.

The position with Anglo Irish has not been helped |by its failure to respond initially to ‘The Independent’ when we tried to get the position clarified after receiving letters from concerned readers. And its communications, still, are misleading. The Irish government has issued a guarantee for a two-year period that covers the full value of deposits in the Irish banks, yet Anglo Irish tells us, bizarrely, that it is prevented from stating that this is the case, as that would be marketing itself to exploit

that guarantee. Instead, it is only allowed to refer to the compensation that was in place prior to this, which |was limited to €100,000 (£92,500). This has caused much confusion. The bank has now been nationalised, giving it an additional safety net from the Irish government. Concerns about Ireland’s finances should |not affect the government’s ability to meet compensation claims in the immediate future should any of its banks be unable to repay their savers.

Anglo Irish apologises to you for any confusion in its correspondence. A spokeswoman adds: “The nationalisation of Anglo will in no way adversely impact our customers’ deposits. Depositors in Ireland enjoy robust protection when it comes to the security of their money.” A spokeswoman for the FSCS says it has had a “massive” increase in enquiries since the start of the banking crisis, causing delays in responding to enquiries. It says that, at present, it is replying to 90 per cent of emails and other correspondence within 15 days.

Q. We moved house in August, informing our internet and phone provider Pipex in plenty of time. We were instructed to confirm the move nearer the time and told that it would take three to four weeks to set up the service at the new address. In October, we |still had no internet connection, despite phoning repeatedly. We gave up, having paid Pipex £60 for a service we did not receive. We also had a large BT bill in place of Pipex’s service, including £6 for calls to Pipex. MG, Dorset.

A.Tiscali, which now owns Pipex, apologises, saying that |an error had been made by |one of its agents. It agrees to refund the £60 and will pay you an extra £20 for your inconvenience, plus |the extra costs on your BT phone bill that you have incurred because Pipex failed to set up its phone service – which you calculate at £40 to £50.

Q. My elderly aunt has never had confidence in banks and has no bank account. She is now unable to leave the house on her own. She received a cheque for £737 almost a year ago for an “unclaimed cash entitlement”. The letter states that the cheque must be presented for payment within 12 months. We don’t know what to do as my aunt is unable to go to a bank to open an account, but of course she does not want to lose the money. She lives on the Isle of Man and we live in Lancashire. JR, Rossendale.

A. It is possible to open a bank account without going to |a branch of the bank. The Co-operative Bank told us that it would normally require a passport or a photo driving licence to open an account by phone or post. |If your aunt does not have either of these, then it will accept another agreed form of identification certified as being hers by a professional person – her solicitor, doctor, dentist, or even the sub-postmaster. However, she may need to request a replacement cheque in spite of the 12-month deadline specified in the letter, as banks will not normally accept a cheque that is more than six months old for presentation to another bank for clearance.

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@independent.co.uk