Pensions 'safe' in Cyprus crisis

Laiki BankSeveral thousand expat Britons with Cypriot bank accounts will have their pension payments frozen until "at least" Tuesday to ensure they receive them ahead of a proposed bank deposit tax, Treasury minister Greg Clark has said.

He told MPs the Government was putting pension payments on hold to "ensure that any payments made by Her Majesty's Government to banks in Cyprus get to the intended recipient".

He also confirmed earlier announcements that more than 3,000 British service personnel based in Cyprus would be compensated by the Government if the levy goes ahead to ensure they would not suffer "unreasonable losses".

Cypriot government postponed a vote on the unprecedented one-off bank deposit tax, part of a wider bailout package. The island's banks will remain closed until Thursday, as Monday's bank holiday has been extended by two days, the nation's central bank said. The Cypriot government wants time to amend the deal reached over the weekend, which will raid ordinary people's savings to partly fund a bailout package.

Unlike the previous rescues for Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Spanish banks, the proposed Cypriot bailout is the first one that dips into people's bank accounts to finance a bailout.

In exchange for 10 billion euro (£8.6 billion) in rescue money, the government proposed a one-time tax of 6.75% on all bank deposits under 100,000 euro (£86,490) and 9.9% over that amount. The bailout package, which has still to be finalised, involves the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union.

But after prompting an outcry from depositors, the Cypriot government is now looking at changing the terms of the deal so small savers lose less, while big depositors pay more. One proposal is to make the tax more progressive, with a one-time 3% levy on deposits below 100,000 euro, rising to 15% for those above 500,000 euro (£428,505).

Mr Clark reiterated the UK Government's commitment to compensate around 3,000 armed forces members stationed in Cyprus for "reasonable losses" incurred from the situation. And he said several thousand UK pensioners in Cyprus would have their payments temporarily frozen, adding that it is possible to change the designated bank account to receive payments online.

"Any UK pensioners in Cyprus can be assured that their future pension payments are being held safely and a normal payment service will resume as soon as the situation in Cyprus becomes clear," he said. "However, recipients of these payments are able of course to switch the bank account to which payments are made with immediate effect."

Mr Clark urged anyone wishing to do so to contact the International Pension Centre online.

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Pensions 'safe' in Cyprus crisis

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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