According to an investigation by the Consumers' Association, the cheques making their way through the clearing system at any one time are used by banks and building societies to invest in the international money markets.
The CA investigation also found that one in four cheques paid into a bank or building society account takes longer to clear than the time advertised.
CA money editor, Graeme Jacobs, commenting on the report's findings, said: "Customers are being seriously short-changed. While you are waiting for your cash, banks are earning interest on it. These delays are unjustifiable."
However, a number of banks, including Lloyds and the TSB, have described the CA's findings as "without balance". A spokeswoman for Lloyds said: "Lloyds clears in four days and from that time the money is available to our customers. It is just that our computer does not register this until the fifth day."
The CA's survey says that up to 9 million cheques are presented in Britain every day. This is normally done in two stages: first they are "cleared for value". With normal current accounts this period should account for two working days after the cheque is paid in.
But money can only be removed after the cheque has been also "cleared for fate". This allows banks or building societies to ensure the cheque will not bounce before it lets the cash be withdrawn. The CA found that depending on which bank is involved, customers can wait more than a week before getting their cash.Reuse content