Sam Dunn: If banks stop behaving badly, we can live with fees

Is free banking a right?

Probably not, but if banks and other providers have ever wanted to start a fair debate on the subject, they've blown that chance by behaving so badly.

Tired of being stung with high fees for accidental or tiny breaches of an overdraft or a missed payment, most people have clung to a free bank account as their one refuge.

It has also become a dangerous habit: ordinary current accounts have been free for more than two decades, and that contributes to our inertia in switching away from banks that don't serve us well.

First Direct's actions last week (see back page) attracted plenty of opprobrium but other banks will be weighing up such a move over the coming weeks.

In fairness, it costs banks a lot to set up an account, manage transactions, offer an overdraft - and look after your money. But if a move towards current account "management" fees gains momentum, the very least to ask for is transparency.

As long as "basic" bank accounts remain free for those on low incomes - and I'm convinced the Financial Inclusion Task Force will ensure this - then I don't think too many people would object to a small fee.

Heat on British Gas

"The ads should not be published again in those forms unless there is sufficient substantiation to back up the claims made."

This unwieldy slice of bureaucratic language closed an adjudication made last week by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Following on from a recent outburst by John McFall, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, on the potential danger of misleading claims for financial services products, step forward British Gas.

The giant utility has been publicly rebuked for having claimed that every 60 seconds someone switched back to it for their energy supply (see News, page 22).

Thanks to complaints from the public and rival suppliers, it transpired that the claim was based on figures that also included consumers who had not been with British Gas before.

How could such an erroneous claim ever make it into an ad?

British Gas says it received guidance from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which advises on the copy used in ads, and got the approval of the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC).

The company had initially said its claim was founded on an assumption that, since it used to be a monopoly, all gas customers had been with it once.

It stands by this but says the point is hard to prove.

"We still think it's a truth. We only keep customer records for a certain amount of time, and we cannot trawl through the hundreds of thousands of consumers who switch every year," a spokesman explains.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the authorities took a different view.

The ASA says it is happy with the way in which companies present their plans for adverts via the CAP and BACC, and that the two bodies stop huge numbers of misleading ads getting through. But occasionally, it adds, ads will slip through the net.

So we then have to rely on the vigilance of the public and, of course, rival companies.

Intriguingly, only one member of the public was listed by the ASA as having phoned up to complain about the British Gas ad. After totting up the figures implied by the claim, he "believed [it to be] an exaggeration", the ASA said.

We need more people like this acting as lookouts, taking the time to reconsider an advert and ask, "Can that really be the case?"

Whenever you hear a claim or suggestion that sounds even slightly exaggerated, do call the ASA on 020 7492 2222.

If it's specifically to do with a financial product, try the Financial Services Authority hotline on 0845 730 0168.

The more pressure on companies, the better: the old adage about giving an inch and taking a mile still stands today.

Coffee without cash

Starbucks is doing its bit to encourage us to do away with cash.

Last week, in hundreds of its coffee houses across the UK, the company launched the Starbucks card - an import from the US, where the chain has 10 million customers using them.

You can load up any sum between £2 and £150 and simply run this down and reload when empty; if the card is stolen, you can cancel it immediately and get a replacement for free.

Busy customers, Starbucks says, will benefit from spending less time at the till; they will also be able to use the card abroad in the US, Thailand and Canada (at no cost to the consumer, the company adds).

Of course, Starbucks gets something too. Busy commuters - a key market - can pass more swiftly through its stores, encouraging more customers to visit at peak times.

The card should free up Starbucks staff to engage in more productive jobs if they no longer have to handle so much cash.

Stories of an imminent cashless society regularly do the rounds but it's just this kind of card creep that is likely to hasten its arrival.

Our national obsession with caffeine doesn't look like waning any time soon, and the cards don't carry any charges.

One obstacle might slow down the progress of this plastic, though: a limit to wallet space.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain


Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
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

    The benefits of Recruitment at SThree...

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

    Finance Assistant - Part time - 9 month FTC

    £20000 - £23250 Per Annum pro rata: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pro rata ...

    Marketing Manager

    £40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes