NatWest joins banks cutting cheque delays: Lloyds sticks with three-day clearance

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NATIONAL Westminster Bank has fallen into line with Barclays and Midland by cutting the period before it starts paying interest on a cheque paid into an account, from three days to two. But Lloyds says it is determined to stick to three days.

A spokeswoman for Lloyds accused NatWest and Midland, which announced a similar one-day cut this week, of caving in to media pressure. She said the reduction would make only a fraction of a penny's difference to the average salary cheque paid in.

'This will make no difference to NatWest's customers,' she said. 'We still believe we offer customers a competitive package. But if customers tell us this is a problem then we will look at it.'

NatWest and Midland have been prompted by recent claims from Labour MPs and the Consumers' Association that banks have been making pounds 300m a year from interest on cheques kept back in this way.

This was seized on by Barclays, which ran a series of full-page adverts based on press reports of the alleged hidden charge.

The pounds 300m figure would translate into roughly pounds 70m for NatWest.

Sources at NatWest and Lloyds both insisted yesterday that the true figure was considerably smaller.

From 25 April all NatWest customers will benefit from a standard two-day clearing cycle for cheques, meaning cheques paid in on a Monday will be cleared for interest purposes on the Wednesday.

But the change will make no difference to when customers can actually access the money. This will still be Thursday lunchtime.

Lloyds says this separation of the time when interest is payable from the time when customers can receive value for the cheque could cause problems. For instance, if the cheque bounced there could be a dispute over the interest.

As part of NatWest's changes, when its customers pay in or withdraw cash at any of its branches, the interest will start to be paid to the customer's account that day.

Standing orders will also be debited and credited on the same day if both the sender and beneficiary are NatWest customers.

Martin Gray, chief executive, UK branch business at NatWest, said: 'We continually review our competitive position in the marketplace in the light of changing circumstances and customer requirements.'