Simon Read: Banks should be ashamed of how they treat their customers

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The Independent Online

Service from banks is getting worse. That's not just my view, it's demonstrated by the shocking figures published by the Financial Ombudsman Service this week that suggest that banks have simply given up dealing properly with complaints.

It's not just the high number of new complaints in the first six months of the year, but that fact that so many are upheld by the Ombudsman.

When you complain to a high street bank, you'd expect your complaint to be taken seriously. Instead it seems that they are happier to dismiss it and only treat you fairly if you bother to take your problem on to the Ombudsman. Three out of five complaints against Barclays were upheld, for instance, which is appallingly high.

Taking a complaint to an Ombudsman should be a last resort, almost a rarity. But it seems that it's become a necessity for tens of thousands of fed-up customers. In fact, Lloyds Banking Group generated more than 22,000 complaints in just six months. The banking industry points out that as it's dealing with billions of transactions a year, there are bound to be mistakes.

Of course there are. But it's the way that customers are treated after being a victim of a bank mistake that is so mind-boggling. Take businesswoman Stella Hulott of Margate. Depositing a cheque into her NatWest account last week led to a series of errors that the bank simply refused to take responsibility for.

First the bank lost her cheque after a member of staff left it in a cupboard. When it was eventually found NatWest "specialed" it to another branch to help speed up the payment process. They then lost it again and told Stella she'd simply have to get another cheque from her client.

"It beggars belief," she says. "I had a receipt which, to me means that the cheque was in the safe hands of NatWest. I've had to spend four days sorting this out. I am disgusted how an organisation as huge as NatWest can treat their customers so shoddily."

But as the Ombudsman figures show, it's not just NatWest that treats its customers poorly. Can the high street banks ever restore their reputations with customers? It seems unlikely.

Julian Knight is away

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