Ben beats resistance to change: Young saver's father takes a stand over good banking habits when building society branch refuses to count coins

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TEACHING your children about the virtues of saving regularly is a commendable idea. But what if the building society you go to spurns the cash from your child's piggy-bank?

This is what happened to my nephew, Ben Cicutti, aged four. The Halifax Building Society refused to let him pay his savings, pounds 1 coins and silver, into his Little Xtra Club account.

Staff at the Loughton branch, in Essex, where Ben went with his father last month, said they could not count his money - about pounds 25 - because it was a Saturday and they were busy. Only when Ben and his dad refused to leave the branch until the money was counted, did the staff oblige, extremely reluctantly.

The initial refusal left Mr Cicutti, an executive with Ford, hopping mad.

'Putting his savings into his piggy-bank and then into his account is an important discipline for Ben, and the regular visit to the building society is something that we, as parents, are trying to encourage,' Mr Cicutti said.

'That is why, if we want Ben to be there, we have to visit the branch on a Saturday. The money we wanted to pay in was pounds 25, most of it in pounds 1 coins, while the rest had already been counted and was in plastic bags. We were told there was a queue behind us, but they had five tills - only three of which were in use on what is one of their busiest days. Queues are the building society's problem not the customer's'

Mr Cicutti, from Chingford, Essex, wrote a letter of protest to the Halifax, which produced an instant apology from its London regional office. 'The way in which you were treated was unacceptable,' the society replied.

It blamed the unstaffed tills on poor planning. Ben's account has also been credited with an extra pounds 10 as a way of making amends.

A generous enough apology. But does this mean that other parents will not face the same problem when visiting a branch with their children?

A Halifax spokeswoman said: 'This was an isolated incident and one we would wish to avoid as all our customers are valued and important to us. For Little Xtra Club accounts, coins should always be accepted.'

What of other banks and building societies? Nationwide said it would be happy to accept coins on Saturdays and would supply the plastic bags to count up the money beforehand.

Abbey National branches will take up to pounds 25 in coins, with sums above that at the branch's discretion. This will depend on how busy the branch is on any particular day.

Woolwich said: 'No child who takes change into our branch is turned down. We do prefer, however, that it is counted out in advance so the amount can be verified with the parent.'

Alliance & Leicester said that 'of course' customers were welcome to pay their money into an account in coins, preferably in bags. Cheltenham & Gloucester will accept up to pounds 10 in coins if bagged up. C&G branches have discretion to accept more.

Bradford & Bingley said coins were accepted, but if the payment was at peak times, customers might be asked to leave their money behind, with a note saying how much they believed it to be. They could return later to verify the amount. About half of its 200 branches have coin-weighing machines.

Yorkshire Building Society also accepts coins. If payment is at a difficult time, a member of back-room staff may come out and help to count the money to one side of the main counters.

As for Ben, the experience has not put him off saving his money. He has already started putting more coins into his piggy-bank again.

A survey by TSB last week revealed children as young as 12 have an average weekly income of pounds 5.30 a week, including paid-for chores and pocket money. This rises to pounds 17 a week for 16- year-olds.

The idea of working for your money is taking hold earlier, as is that of saving it up for the future, TSB says. If saving institutions want to win children's respect - and their accounts - they should treat them accordingly.

(Photograph omitted)