New payment mistake rules adopted
People who accidentally send money to the wrong account are to get more help to claw their payments back under new rules being adopted by banks and building societies next month.
The new voluntary code, which is being incorporated by Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC, Nationwide Building Society, Barclays, Santander, the Co-operative Bank and NatWest among others, will mean that as soon as someone tells their bank they have made a mistake with a payment, they will act within two working days.
If the bank cannot reclaim the funds immediately, for example if the payment recipient disputes the return, it will investigate further and the customer will be told within a maximum of 20 working days what the outcome is.
Someone who raises a claim for a wrong payment is not guaranteed that they will get their money back under the new rules and people are still being warned to "check before you click" when transferring cash.
But the Payments Council, which is overseeing the code, said it would put that person in a better position as they would find out where they stood more quickly and they could then take their complaint further.
The other banks and building societies who are signing up to the code are Clydesdale Bank, Coventry Building Society, Coutts, Tesco Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Ulster Bank and Adam & Company.
All of them have pledged to incorporate the code by the end of May and other banks are expected to come on board in the coming months.
Until now, there has been a lack of consistency in the way that banks deal with their customers when they have made a blunder over a payment and the banks can take anything from a few days to months to sort out problems.
A spokeswoman for the Payments Council said people's experiences "can differ widely depending on who they bank with and just how helpful bank staff are".
The rise of online banking and mobile payments also means that more people are keying in bank account numbers and sort codes themselves, heightening the danger that the payment will not reach the intended recipient.
The only information used to address payments is the sort code and account number, and not the recipient's name, meaning that if these details are wrongly entered the cash could end up in a stranger's bank account.
Payments cannot be automatically reversed.
Banks should ensure the way their online banking and mobile and telephone payment services are set up cuts the risk of people making mistakes under the new code.
Customers could be asked to input details twice and they may see extra warnings about using the wrong account details.
They may also be prompted to check old payment details they have stored and perhaps delete them.
The new guidance also said it was best practice for banks not to use "auto fill" when someone was entering critical payment details during online banking, although details may be automatically filled in in cases where someone pays a particular bill regularly.
If funds cannot be recovered, the customer will be told about other options available to them, such as court action, and they can also take their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) if they are not happy with their bank's actions.
The Payments Council said the number of customers using the new code would be tracked.
It does not currently keep figures for the number of people who make wrong payments as it said they can be difficult to quantify.
The FOS received about 100 complaints about mis-directed payments during the financial year 2012/13, out of nearly 19,000 complaints about current accounts generally.
A spokeswoman for the ombudsman said: "We can't emphasise this more strongly; check before you click.
"Transferring money is easier than ever these days, but once you've hit the send button you might not get your cash back if you've made a mistake."
The ombudsman service said it expected banks to do all they reasonably could to claim money back, but people must also understand that "often a bank can't simply delve into another person's account".
If the money has been wrongly transferred within the same bank and the recipient confirms the cash is not rightfully theirs, the ombudsman said the money can be withdrawn and returned to the sender.
But where the transfer was made to another bank, the consumer is reliant on two businesses co-operating.
Further complications arise if the recipient has spent the cash, as the bank cannot remove funds if this leaves the account holder overdrawn, the ombudsman said.
There is no time limit on when a person needs to raise the issue with their bank if they think they have made a wrong payment under the new code, but the Payments Council advises that they should tell their bank as soon as they become aware.
Adrian Kamellard, chief executive of the Payments Council, said: "Sending a payment with the wrong sort code or account number is like sending a letter with the wrong postcode and address - it won't reach its intended destination and can be very difficult to get back.
"The overwhelming majority of the millions of payments we send each day reach their intended destination without any problem, but if you are unlucky enough to make a mistake this new process should help."