Simon Read: Finance firms should include complaints figures in adverts

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The Independent Online

Barclays Bank this week confirmed its position as Britain's most-complained about financial firm. The company attracted 251,563 complaints in the first six months of the year, almost 40 per cent more than second-placed Lloyds TSB.

Barclays defended its position by pointing out that it has actually cut the number of complaints it received about banking issues, as opposed to to the rising number of complaints about insurance mis-selling it attracted. It also promised to try to do better.

It needs to. I have some sympathy with the fact that the complaints data includes everyone who complains, even if their problem is resolved at once, or is simply the result of confusion about costs or services. But that still doesn't excuse the fact that Barclays has now topped the table of shame for the second period in a row.

If it gets a hat-trick and is the most complained-about firm yet again when the next figures are published in six months' time, I suggest Barclays be forced to add the title to its advertising so that potential customers know that unhappiness may be just around the corner.

Another thing worth noting with the latest complaints figures is the fact that the total overall number of complaints increased by 6.5 per cent in a year to 1,852,284. That means that some 10,000 complaints were made every working day in the first six months of the year.

Even allowing for the tidal wave of complaints about mis-sold payment protection insurance – a shocking scandal in its own right – the fact that banks, in the main, are still attracting such a colossal level of complaints is scandalously unacceptable.

What's the solution? Three things: better products, better explanations of them and better service. The reason why so many people complain about their bank – or, indeed, other financial firm – is because they are sold an account or insurance or loan or whatever that proves to be not what they expected.

So the interest paid is less, or the charges higher, or the terms and conditions or penalties are much more onerous than people are led to believe. So financial products need to be more transparent so that people can understand what they're buying, and more skewed in favour of customers than they are at present.

If people did understand what they were buying, then few would have any reason to complain about the products once they have signed up. Of course it's also incumbent upon all of us to be better informed when making financial choices.

But financial institutions also need to massively improve their customer service. The initial standard response to a customer complaint still seems to be to send a dismissive formulated letter or email of rejection, judging by the evidence we get from readers who have been fobbed off.

Banks, insurers and others must stop simply paying lip service to the idea of customer service and start treating people fairly and with respect.

To encourage them to do so I suggest that all firms should include comparative complaints figures in their adverts, along with the rest of the small print, so that it becomes part of the way we judge them. That would be a powerful inducement to reduce complaints and provide better service than their rivals.

The average household now owes £55,822 while individual debt is at £29,546, according to debt charity Credit Action.

Its October debt statistics also reveal that £175m is the personal interest paid in the UK daily while the annual growth rate in consumer lending has risen to 2.3 per cent, its highest level since May 2009.

While borrowing is essential for most of us, particularly those with a mortgage, spare a thought for those whose debt levels are proving unmanageable. Credit Action says a home is repossessed every 14.6 minutes.

The total number of people who have been out of work for more than a year has climbed to 849,000. With 1,775 people losing their job every day in the three months to the end of July, more hard-up folk will face losing their home in the coming months.

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