Questions of Cash: Santander pulled plug on our guaranteed free banking


Q. About 12 years ago, our small firm opened a business account with Abbey on the basis of what their brochure called "Free, day-to-day, business banking – not for 12 months, 18 months, or even two years, but forever… and we guarantee that unless there are any changes to the law or banking regulations, or any new taxes relating to bank charges, you will benefit from free, day-to-day, business banking forever".

We assumed that when Santander took over Abbey it acquired its assets and liabilities, that our business account is an asset and the commitment to free, day-to-day banking a liability. In July this year we were given notice that Santander intends to start charging a fixed monthly fee on our account. On writing to them we were told they have the right to do that having given 60 days' notice. Do you think we were mis-sold a product and Santander is in breach of contract? If necessary, we will go to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). JK, Leicestershire.

A. Santander insists it is not in breach of contract law in making the change. A Santander spokeswoman gave us a statement saying it believed most of its business customers would recognise the new account terms would better meet their needs. The spokeswoman added: "We are trying to give customers as much notice as possible about the change – hence this initial correspondence ahead of the 60-day required notice." But Santander had not addressed the specific point about whether it is legally committed to maintaining the pledge entered into by Abbey, which it bought in 2004. The spokeswoman responded: "Santander inherited the free business bank accounts from Abbey and Alliance & Leicester.

Following Santander's acquisition of both businesses we analysed both inherited books and the business banking market and it simply isn't viable for us to continue offering business customers these accounts and the services they want, for free... We believe that the majority of our customers will see that this new account is highly competitive and gives them the all-round service they demand so that they can concentrate on growing their businesses." We pointed out, again, that the bank was not dealing with the point about whether it was breaching a legally valid contact in making the change. We then got the explanation we were seeking.

The spokeswoman said: "Our terms and conditions state that we could change the account at any time. We are sorry if customers are disappointed by the change, but we believe our accounts are extremely competitive and we hope that our customers will see the benefits and understand they are very good value." Even if Santander can argue it is legally in the right, many business customers are likely to say it is morally in the wrong. You state you are willing to take the matter to the FOS. While the ombudsman is primarily concerned with consumer complaints, it can also consider complaints from "micro-enterprises", defined as those with less than 10 employees and an annual turnover of under £1.5m. If your business meets those criteria, we suggest you complain to the FOS.

Q. I found out I had an 18 months contract with BT only when I tried to cancel the service. This was contrary to what I was promised over the phone when I placed the order. I requested a 12-month contract as I rented the property and could not make a commitment beyond that time. I contacted BT and requested a revision of my final bill as I was given the wrong information over the telephone. BT also sold me an international telephone package to provide free calls to Mexico, but Mexico was not covered in the package.

I have twice told BT that I was content to pay the cancellation fee and a fair partial payment of their bill, to avoid a debt collection company being engaged. BT told me that a recording of the original call had to be checked and someone would come back to me within five days, but no one did. I also wrote a letter of complaint asking for the final bill to be revised, which was not answered. After months trying to settle the bill, I have now had a letter from a debt collection company. I rang BT and it immediately corrected the final bill. Since then, I have sent a letter to BT requesting a written answer to my complaint about the service, together with compensation for the time, effort and distress caused by its mistakes, but I have not had a response. SB, Manchester.

A. BT says the order was placed verbally by the person you shared accommodation with on 21 October 2011 and the service installed one week later. The service was its "Option 1" package, with unlimited evening and weekend calls at £13 per month on an 18-month contract, with three months free. The terms of this contract were apparently confirmed by email to you. As you cancelled less than six months later, the cancellation fees would apply whether it was a 12 or 18-month contract.

The final bill included £46 for the BT Home Hub and £82.97 for the phone and broadband service for the duration of the contract period. The £46 was credited to your account when you notified BT that you had returned the BT Home Hub. After you called on 12 June to dispute the remaining bill, your account was credited with a further £48 as a goodwill gesture. You opted for the International Freedom plan in addition to Option 1, which provides discounted, not free, calls to Mexico. However, your calls to Mexico pre-date your subscription to this service, so there was no discount on these. BT apologises for not responding to your letter.

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:

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
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

    SThree: HR Benefits Manager

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

    £30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

    Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

    £250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

    Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

    £230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower