Abbey develops a bad habit with pounds 1 charge for counter service

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The Independent Online
"I've never heard of anything so cheeky in all my life," fumed Keith Sinclair, a communications quality manager, and most of his fellow Abbey National customers agreed with him.

Yesterday the bank started charging some customers for queuing up inside branches rather than using its cash machines and telephone banking service. Abbey National's Instant Plus account-holders will now have to pay pounds 1 for basic over-the-counter transactions. Instant Plus, launched last year, is a card-based account and customers are meant to use cash machines or the 24-hour telephone banking service. But some people have been queueing inside branches along with everyone else.

"This new initiative is intended to help reduce queues in branches and free counters for customers with more complex queries," said a spokesman. "A number of Abbey National's competitors have been levying similar charges for some time."

But the Abbey's move annoyed customers using their branches yesterday. Jackie McGovern, an Instant Plus holder, had queued for a statement only to be told that she would be charged. "I'd been standing there and they said `We'll have to charge you for this because you're not using the machine. I didn't realise you could get them free out of the machine. But charging people like this isn't very impressive."

"It's a consequence of the building societies going public," said Keith Sinclair. "It's the thin end of the wedge. This'll go on and on."

But Gary Bradshaw, a merchant banker, said: "They are just moving with the times, and hopefully they'll pass on the savings to the customers when they are able to reduce staff numbers."

Simon Smith, an accountant, said: "It's the first I've heard of it. I don't like using machines at all and try to avoid it when I can. Deborah Hyde said: "People will end up changing to another building society or bank. They will do that if they have to pay."

None of the main high street banks said that they plans to introduce such charges. Britannia Building Society charges pounds 1 for counter withdrawal if the balance is less than pounds 100, as does the Coventry Building Society. The Alliance and Leicester charges 60p for counter withdrawals when more than two are made in a month or the balance is less than pounds 1,000.