Why can't we check up on our cheques?

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The Independent Online
You don't trust your bank. So you check your statement. You don't recognise some of those larger-than-hoped-for cheques. You never fill in your cheque stubs (wallets weren't built for whole chequebooks, after all). But your statement doesn't help because it doesn't say to whom a cheque was payable. If it did, you might recognise the amounts.

So you query them with your bank. The bank checks the cheques, but frequently charges you for the privilege. Even if it doesn't charge, the confirmation often takes a week or more.

Barclays tells me it is improving its statements in the hope of helping customers to recognise transactions. But cheque names still won't appear. In fact, as far as I can see, no mainstream bank offers this information on statements.

Barclays says that it would be too expensive to extract cheques' payment names for inclusion on statements. The details would have to be scanned or transcribed manually (not a problem with debit cards, where information is recorded electronically).

Well, maybe. But the banks already have to do this for the cheque's value, and should be reading the name for "payee only" cheques. Also, the cheques themselves physically come back to the banks as part of the clearing process.

Banks' reluctance to provide this information may have something to do with the continuing decline in cheque usage.

There may be some people who don't want payees' details to appear on their statements - those with joint accounts who would rather not explain some of their spending to their partners, perhaps.

But for most of us the change would be of real value in helping identify to whom we'd given our money. In the absence of such a change - or an (unlikely) move to a US-style system where cheques eventually find their way back to the writer - banks would bolster their claim to be interested in customer service if they made it very clear they won't charge for queries.

BUILDING societies are still up to their old tricks. That's another way of looking at this week's otherwise welcome announcement from the Portman that it is improving rates on old, forgotten savings accounts to the levels of "live" accounts (news first revealed in this paper on 21 July). About 100,000 savers will benefit from the move, which will cost the society pounds 1.5m in interest every year.

But the real question is why the Portman has been running these rip-off accounts for the year or so it has been bleating about what a good deal customers get from societies that don't hand out windfalls.