Simon Read: When will the banks start listening to our fair complaints?

Another week, another astonishing list of complaints about our banks. On Thursday it was the Financial Service Authority's turn to release statistics demonstrating just how little banks care about customer service. The City watchdog reported that around 1.3 million complaints about poor service or the misselling of financial products were logged against the high street banks in just six months.

That means there were 7,143 complaints against banks every day in the first half of the year, the bulk of them being directed at the oversized Lloyds Banking Group, which alone accounted for more than half a million complaints. As a result the FSA is likely to fine two of Britain's biggest banks for failures in complaints handling.

It is also proposing to increase the the maximum compensation award to consumers to £150,000 from £100,000. I must admit I didn't know there was a maximum, but there clearly shouldn't be.

If we want banks to toe the line and offer decent services and products, we should be able to make them pay dearly when they cock up or deliberately treat people badly. I hate the compensation culture that is creeping into our society, but when we can prove that banks have done wrong, they should pay the price.

* Three cheers to Dorset builder Cameron Hope, who bricked up the door of his local Barclays bank last weekend at his frustration at the bank's continued refusal to lend money to ordinary people. "It's like to talking to a brick wall," he said. While many folk will have sympathy with Mr Hope's plight (he's been continually turned down for a loan) I was interested to learn that he had originally targeted NatWest but was thwarted by a heavy police presence in the area.

So he drove round until he found another bank branch to brick up, which just happened to be Barclays in Westbourne. "I've got nothing against Barclays," Mr Hope said. But, as his demonstration showed, all banks are equally worthy of our wrath. Lloyds may have had the most complaints so far this year, but that's only because now it has taken over HBOS, it is the biggest British bank.

Apart from laudable initiatives like bank accounts for prisoners, which we report opposite, all the banks are consistently failing us at the moment.

* Motor insurers were also rightly in the firing line this week after Which? Money named and shamed the firms which charge outrageous sums for making tiny changes to insurance policies. Some charge a ridiculous £50 or more simply for setting up a policy or for making a small adjustment, such as changing an address. If you need duplicate documents you could be charged up to £30, and even renewing a policy can cost you up to £55 with some insurers.Some charges are fair as requested change involve a costs. But the charge must be reasonable. If some firms only need to charge £10 for making an adjustment to a policy, or for cancelling it, then companies charging five times as much are profiteering.

Gordon Morris of Age UK Enterprises says: "It is frustrating that some companies are clearly using unfair charges as a way of making money because they're continuing to charge for initial administration fees, duplicating documents and simply changing the name on a policy.

"It is no wonder the industry suffers from little trust when companies continue to levy charges on unassuming customers."

Quite so. Hidden fees are simply a sneaky way to charge people more. And many firms that offer apparently cheap deals rely on the hidden charges to claw in much more money from suckers like us.

My advice is to avoid them, or to check the small print very closely before signing up, so you know just how much it really will cost you. According to Which?, companies to be wary of, because they have several hidden charges, are: I-Kube (aimed at young drivers), American Express, Auto Direct, Cover Direct and Donatesomeback.com.

s.read@independent.co.uk

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