Questions Of Cash: The 'co-operative' bank that failed to deliver when it was really needed

Q I have had a bank account, credit card and debit card with the Co-operative Bank for many years. I am now in the Philippines, a trip about which I pre-advised the Co-operative Bank to ensure I still had access to my accounts. I stressed that I needed access to a thousand pounds for a cash payment to a colleague – the bank told me there would be no problem.

When I arrived in the Philippines on 27 July, a Sunday, neither of my cards would work in the five cash machines I tried. Each time I phoned the Co-operative Bank's published phone numbers to sort this out, I was unable to get through. I emailed colleagues in Britain to ask them to phone the Co-operative Bank, requesting the bank to phone me: one colleague was also unable to get through and the other was told that bank staff could not phone me as they were not permitted to make international calls.

I only had enough cash to pay for one night's lodgings at a cheap hotel in San Fernando and I ended up having to leave my passport, DVD player and other possessions with the hotel to be allowed to sleep there and to borrow some money for food. I was supposed to move on to another town immediately, after paying my colleague. But because I could not get any money I had to stay in San Fernando for another three days.

I kept emailing the bank without any response, but a colleague in Britain did manage to send me some money through Western Union.

The Co-operative Bank responded when it opened for business on the Monday and admitted the fault was caused by having incorrectly suspended my cards. The Co-op has done something similar with me before, but not with such bad effects. NL, emailed from the Philippines.

A Being stuck in another country, far away, with no access to your own money is one of the worst things that can happen to a traveller. Notifying your bank in advance should have made sure that you avoided disaster – but the Co-operative Bank failed to act on the information. Consequently, because the Philippines is classified as one of the worst countries in the world for fraud, access to your accounts was disabled and you were left stranded and broke.

To make matters worse, the Co-operative Bank's customer services proved inaccessible from abroad and it failed to respond adequately to increasingly angry complaints until we intervened.

After our involvement, the bank offered compensation of £200, including £100 for your colleagues who had to put up their own money to rescue you. Understandably, you regarded this as insufficient. The Co-operative Bank has now increased its compensation to £400, which is calculated to fully cover the extra costs borne by yourself and your colleagues.

Q In April, I had my cheque book stolen from my house. I phoned my bank, HSBC, to cancel the cheques and my debit card and HSBC assured me that it would sort out the problem. But I had to open a new bank account, find the person who carried out the fraud and successfully take them to court.

HSBC assured me that documents would be sent to its fraud department and then I would be receiving the money back in instalments from the fraudster. But instead of this traumatic incident being all over, I found on 8 August that my account was suspended.

I have spent hours on the phone, and £287 on phone calls, been nine hours in an HSBC branch, yet was unable to get hold of my own money, without even having the fare to get to work. I have now been four days without any money and I can't get any medication for my wife, who is ill.

I have been keeping my bank account well managed and in credit since the previous problems. TW, Surbiton.

A The situation is more complex than you report. The initial fraud was carried out by someone who shared your house, which suggests that you need to protect yourself better from fraud.

It also raised concerns at HSBC's fraud department about your vulnerability to fraud. But the subsequent suspension of your account was because of a second and unrelated fraud against your account. You sold a car for £1,500 and accepted a cheque in payment that was drawn on a company selling camping equipment. HSBC says that the buyer was someone you met in the street. Not surprisingly, HSBC believes you have been negligent in allowing fraud to take place. A spokesman for HSBC says: "In cases such as this, where the bank is investigating a fraud, for reasons to do with the investigation we do not always contact the account holder immediately."

However, HSBC apologises for not having advised you of the real reasons why your account was suspended while initial investigations took place. Those investigations have not yet been completed, but HSBC says they will be once you have officially reported the latest fraud to the police and HSBC has discussed it with the police.

While your anger with HSBC over its failure to honestly inform you of the situation is understandable, there must be an onus on you to protect yourself from fraud more effectively than you have done.

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