Northern Rock takes £100m in penalty fees

Bank had its single most profitable day as savers were forced to pay redemption charges to close accounts
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The Independent Online

Northern Rock savers were forced to pay more than £100m in penalty charges when the £2bn run on the beleaguered bank began earlier this month.

In the panic following news that Northern Rock had gone cap in hand to the Bank of England for an emergency loan, customers were forced to pay punitive redemption charges to close their accounts instantly.

A source at a Northern Rock branch told the Independent on Sunday that the combined penalty charges at a single, larger branch totalled £3m on Friday 15 September, the day the run began. The rush to close accounts made it the most profitable single day in the bank's history.

One customer is believed to have paid £12,000 to take out £1m worth of savings-related products.

John McFall, chairman of the influential Treasury Select Committee, warned that Northern Rock's chief executive, Adam Applegarth, would have to explain the extent of the penalty charges when he faces a grilling over the debacle by MPs in October.

"Issues surrounding penalty payments will certainly be looked at by the committee," said Mr McFall.

Mark Gander, co-founder of the Consumer Action Group, which has campaigned for the abolition of many charges imposed by banks, including excess overdraft costs, said the extent of the penalty charges levied by Northern Rock was deplorable.

"This will further undermine the public's already frail confidence and trust in banks, but it's not surprising," said Mr Gander. "Banks are capable of turning anything to their advantage with the poorest always worst hit. Once again banks have shown blatant disregard for communities."

According to the financial research group Moneyfacts, Northern Rock invokes penalty charges for early withdrawal on 10 of its savings accounts. The penalties range from as low as a 30-day loss of interest to as much as a 180-day interest hit on five-year fixed- rate ISA products.

Earlier this month the bank said it would refund charges borne by its customers during the crisis if they return withdrawn cash by a 12 October deadline. It is not known how much of the estimated £2bn cash removed has been returned in the past two weeks.

Shares in the Newcastle-based lender closed down by more than 7 per cent on Friday at 179.2p, amid concerns that it has now been forced to borrow as much as £8bn in emergency cash from the Bank of England since it first sought last-ditch finance two weeks ago. Its shares have lost more than 70 per cent of their value in a fortnight, while the group was last week forced to shelve its dividend payout.

The prospects of a bidder emerging also receded, with one City analyst at the broker Collins Stewart slapping a mere 130p target price on the stock.

"We believe the bank's future is more likely in closing its books," said the broker in a note to investors.

It was reported last week that the former Goldman Sachs banker Chris Flowers might be joining the hedge funds Cerberus Capital Management and Citadel, with a view to tabling a break-up offer. Rumours have also persisted that LloydsTSB may be mulling a return to the table after previously abandoning plans to buy the ailing bank.

A Northern Rock spokesman declined to comment.