Absence makes bills grow longer

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The Independent Online
JUDITH JARVIS, a retired financial adviser, likes to pay her credit cards in full each month. So she was taken aback when she returned from abroad to a warning from National Westminster Bank over an outstanding bill, writes Maria Scott.

Ms Jarvis went away last November and returned at the end of January. In the meantime National Westminster had debited the annual pounds 12 fee for her Access card to her bill. On 5 February, the bank wrote reminding her that the amount was overdue and stating that the card had been cancelled. She was told to cut it up and return it to the bank. She was also told that her air miles had been withdrawn.

More worrying was the warning that her debt might be registered with a credit agency if she did not come up with the money, or a reasonable proposal to pay it within 28 days. Ms Jarvis protested and the bank apologised, explaining that with 4 million cardholders it was not possible to provide the degree of personal service that would be available from a bank branch.

Before Ms Jarvis returned from holiday she had paid for some items with her card, planning to repay them on her return. A spokesman for the bank said that the debiting of these items to her card account when the pounds 12 fee was overdue might have speeded the withdrawal of the card.

National Westminster and Lloyds normally levy the fee on the anniversary of a card account being opened. Midland takes it in April, or on the anniversary of the account if it was opened after April 1991, when the fee was introduced. Barclaycard takes its fee in June or on the anniversary of the account if opened after June 1990.