'Two-tier' bank numbers revealed

Elderly woman on phoneMany leading banks, insurers and energy companies are making existing customers pay to phone them while offering free numbers to new customers, a watchdog has found.

The majority - 27 out of the 34 companies investigated - offered 0800 numbers for new customers, while just six gave the free numbers to existing customers, said the Which? consumer group.
The companies operating a two-tier system by making existing customers use an 0844 or 0845 number included Churchill, HSBC, NatWest/RBS and Scottish Power, the watchdog said.

And 20 companies made their customers call the often-expensive 0845 numbers to complain about bad service or problems with their bills.
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Which? said customers were faced with a "baffling" number of different charges depending on the number they used, with call costs for a typical 20 minute peak-time call from a BT landline ranging from just over 50p to call 0845 to more than £1 to call an 0844 or 0870 number or more than £2 to call an 0871 number.

Costs rocketed when calling from a mobile, with the same typical 20-minute call from an Orange pay monthly phone ranging from £2.50 to £8 depending on the telephone number prefix.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "It is unbelievable that companies would add insult to injury by charging their customers a premium to make a complaint. It's even worse when they offer new customers access to 0800 numbers while leaving loyal customers to pay more."

Churchill said: "At Churchill our priority is to ensure that all calls are answered as quickly as possible in order to maintain our high levels of customer service."

An HSBC spokesman said: "Our use of differing prefix telephone numbers enables us to ensure we offer an effective, flexible and resilient service for the tens of millions of customer calls we receive each month."

A ScottishPower spokesman said: "As part of our commitment to provide clear and transparent price comparisons, we have always had a free phone number for customers wishing to discuss ScottishPower tariffs."

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'Two-tier' bank numbers revealed

More than 46,000 of 106,000 the complaints received by the FOS in the second half of last year related to payment protection insurance (PPI). And the organisation is expecting to receive a record 165,000 PPI complaints in 2012/2013.

The huge numbers are due to the PPI mis-selling scandal that should now be a thing of the past, but there is no doubt that the insurance, which can add thousands to the cost of a loan, is highly unpopular!

(Pictured: Martin Lewis after the PPI payout ruling)

Complaints about mortgages jumped by 38% in the last six months of last year, the FOS figures show, compared to an increase of just 5% in investment-related complaints.

Common gripes about mortgages include the exit penalties imposed should you want to sell up or change you mortgage before a fixed or discounted deal comes to an end, and the high arrangement fees charged by many lenders.

While there is nothing in the data released by the FOS about the number of complaints relating to savings accounts, hard-pressed savers have been struggling with low interest rates for several years now.

You can get up to 3.10% with Santander's easy-access eSaver account, but many older accounts are paying 1.00% or less and even this market-leading offer includes a 12-month bonus of 2.60% - meaning that the rate will plummet to just 0.50% after the first year.

Banks are imposing the highest authorised overdraft interest rates since records began, with today's borrowers paying an average of 19.47%, according to the Bank of England.

A typical Briton with an overdraft of £1,000 is therefore forking out around £200 in interest charges alone. Coupled with meagre returns on savings, it's enough to make your blood boil!

While authorised overdrafts may seem expensive, going into the red without permission will cost you even more due to huge penalty fees.

Barclays, for example, charges £8 (up to a maximum of £40 a day) each time that there is not enough money in your account to cover a payment.

If you need to send money abroad, the likelihood is that your bank will impose transfer charges - and offer you a poor rate of exchange. Someone transferring a five-figure sum could easily lose out by £500 or more as a result.

The good news, however, is that you can often get a better deal by using a currency specialist such as Moneycorp.

Automated telephone banking systems, not to mention call centres in far-flung parts of the world, are one of our top gripes - especially as we often encounter them when we are already calling to report a problem.

In the words of one disgruntled customer: "What is it about telephone banking that turns me into Victor Meldrew? Well, maybe it's the fourteen security questions, maybe it's the range of products that they try to push or maybe it's because I'm forced to listen to jazz funk at full volume while my phone bill soars.

"Actually though, I think it's because the people I eventually speak to rarely seem able to solve the issue I'm calling about."

The days of a personal relationship with your bank manager are long gone - for the huge majority of us at least.

When ethical Triodos Bank investigated recently why around 9 million Britons would not recommend their banks to a friend or relative, it found that almost a third felt they were not treated as individuals. Another 40%, meanwhile, were simply disappointed with the customer service they received.

When you're in a rush, the last thing you want to do is wait in a long queue at your local branch.

Researchers at consumer champion Which? recently found that most people get seen within 12 minutes, but you could have a much longer wait if you go in at a busy time. Frustrating stuff!

The Triodos Bank research also indicated that the bonus culture that ensured the bank's high-flying employees received large salaries, even when it was making a loss at the taxpayer's expense, was hugely unpopular with consumers.

About a quarter of those who would not recommend their current banks said this was the main reason why. And with RBS executives sharing a £785 million bonus pool despite the bank, which is 82% publicly owned, making a loss of £2 billion last year, it's not hard to see why.

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