Banks fail to cut mistakes on accounts

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Banks are failing to cut the number of basic mistakes they make on customers' current accounts, despite claiming to have made efforts to improve customer service, says the Consumers' Association.

A third of bank customers experienced a mistake on their current account last year, according to a survey for Which? magazine. This is worse than the results in the previous year's survey, which had shown improvements by the banks.

Barclays and NatWest customers were the least satisfied with the overall level of service, with Clydesdale and TSB also rated below average. The worst offenders for errors - Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale - were over twice as likely to make mistakes as Alliance & Leicester and Halifax, the least error-ridden.

Standing orders and direct debits are the source of most mistakes. Other common mistakes reported are incorrect charges, new cheque books and guarantee cards not sent or sent to the wrong address, incorrect account debits, statement errors and statements not being sent.

The survey found that while banks are making more mistakes, they do seem to be correcting them more quickly than in the past. The proportion of mistakes corrected immediately rose across all types of error surveyed.

First Direct and Alliance & Leicester were rated best for overall service by those surveyed, and telephone banking generally was given the thumbs up.

The best buy bank accounts in this month's Which? are, for those who never go overdrawn: Alliance & Leicester, Co-operative, First Dircet and Royal Bnak of Scotland; for those with overdrafts of up to pounds 100: Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Royal Bank of Scotland; and, for people with overdrafts of pounds 500, Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester, Halifax and Nationwide.

WOMEN are particularly vulnerable to having poor pensions, not just because of their generally lower earnings but also because they are more likely to have breaks from working. TSB, the bank, estimates that 50 per cent of women in the UK are likely to face financial hardship in retirement. It is offering a free booklet, Women & Pensions, which gives pensions guidance to women in a relatively accessible question-and-answer format. The booklet explains how career breaks, marriage, divorce and being widowed may affect women's pensions. Call 0645 758700.

Separately, IFA Promotion, the organisation that promotes independent financial advice, has produced three free fact-sheets covering the rules of personal and company pensions, how to choose a pension that suits your lifestyle, and when are the main trigger times for pension decisions. You and Your Pension, Company Pensions, and Planning Your Retirement are free to callers on 0117-971 1177. Callers will also receive details of three IFAs near their home or office.

One IFA, Surrey-based Informed Choice, has produced a special guide called Choosing a Personal Pension. It is free on 01483 274566.

TAX-FREE PEPs (for Per- sonal Equity Plans) are rightly one of the most popular ways of investing in the stock market. The Plain Language Guide to PEPs is a straightforward new guide written by a Daily Mail journalist and published by the PEP Manager's Association. It is available only by mail order from Pepma, Freepost, SWB 30086, Exeter EX1 1AZ, for pounds 2.40 (the price includes p&p).

Norwich Union, the insurer that has just announced plans to give free shares worth at least pounds 500 each to 3 million of its policyholders, is also offering free guides to investment jargon and health insurance. Norwich Union's Glossary of Investment Terms is available to anyone calling 0345 60 66 77, Your Guide to Insuring Your Health and Income on 0800 42 42 42.