Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Bank Thing

Having spent the morning with the Editor burying Henley and mourning, I couldn't face the empty house. Walking to the shops I bunged my card into an ATM in a vague hope I had enough for a coffee. I did. But the ATM then stole my card and told me to talk to my branch. Grrr.

Long time readers will recall the long struggle I had to open a bank account on my release. Even employed and earning, it took six months to persuade any bank to accept me. In the end it was a basic Cashminder account with the Co-op. Who now tell me that they are closing my account.

The Cashminder account has no overdraft. Good – I didn't want one. I just wanted an account to pay money in, and pay out bills. Simple as that. But then I went fractionally overdrawn 3 times in 6 months – so they closed the account.

This baffled me. I don't spend money I don't have. I spend what's in my wallet or what my account tells me I have. And it should be impossible to overdraw on an account without an overdraft. Yes...? Um, no. If a DD or SO payment is claimed but with insufficient funds, the bank honours it – and takes me overdrawn. Hmmm.

This happened three times – for a matter of hours – because I was stupid enough to use the Co-op mobile app to keep an eye on my account. Silly of me, because the numbers the app gave me often bore no relation to the numbers an ATM showed me. The lag in updating the account details on the app led me to going very briefly and very slightly overdrawn 3 times. Two of these were so fleeting I didn't actually notice. The nice man in the branch explained this to me, sorrowfully but firmly. The Co-op family, it seems, can do without such a profligate member.

It is surprising how quickly recipients of my money noticed the demise of this account. The Council phones to threaten me with the bailiffs. The water people issue a county court summons. My broadband fell silent; my Net access now rests on some dubious jiggery pockery via my mobile phone. And my landlord will be in for a shock.

This is beautifully timed to coincide with my last wage as my contract ends. Clearly I need a new full time job and more benevolent utility companies. Neither seem likely in the immediate future.


  1. Ben, as a first step, send a letter of complaint setting out your side and in particular, stating your rather particular circumstances (no NI number, financially disadvantaged, etc). Assume it will be the only thing the person reading it will know. A bank is not obliged to provide you with service but the Ombudsman takes a dim view of cutting customers off just because they're poor & difficult.

    If they reject your complaint you can take it to the Ombudsman who I suspect will more likely than not overturn it. It's a slow process however so given that I suspect you'll struggle with other banks I suggest you start it now.

    And get your MP involved. This is the kind of thing they can be very useful for.

  2. Ben, if you can and I realise you may not be able to, try getting an account with a credit union (some are on line now) or with a building society. I was suddenly without an income (full-time carer for disabled son, husband left me for another woman, emptied joint account and disappeared without warning). Managed to open a current account without overdraft facility with Nationwide and opened a savings account with credit union so had something to fall back on if lost Nationwide Account. Nationwide don't honour direct debits or standing orders if you don't have an overdraft facility. By the way if, like me you are living on very small income it can be better to pay utilities using standing order instead of direct debit, as utility companies will treat your bank account as if it's their own, so that if you have used more electric than normal or charge is increased they can take extra from your bank account under the direct debit instruction, standing order payments are for a fixed amount which can only be changed by the account holder. As of course you now realise, hindsight is a great thing, you need to avoid Banks they behave very badly towards those struggling on small incomes. Basically you need to threaten your bank with Banking Ombudsman, in my opinion they should not be honouring payments if there is not enough funds to cover them. As to your problems with Landlord, council tax, utilities, get advice and support from Citizens Advice or a free legal advice centre, you'll feel better and in my experience it is possible to prevent action being taken for a while (in my case 3 months before action to evict me) if you know your rights and how to communicate, key phrases caused utilities to give me time to sort myself out financially, (to get my claim for benefit processed). You've done so well since leaving prison dreadful that your bank has really dropped you in it by mismanaging your account. Good luck with sorting out bank etc. and the job search, best wishes and I hope this year gets much better for you.

  3. You can also offer references if you wish, eg the Editor, your employer or someone else who knows you; maybe this might help to reopen your account. I'm sure your readers would be happy to lend or give you £5 or 10 each so you have a smallish wad of cash to deposit - are they less likely to play hard to get if you show them some money? I'd be happy to go first with £10 or 20 come payday.

  4. Sirikit - good idea - £10 on it's way - only he cost of a couple of coffees and makes a good deed to start off the year. Ben let us know how things go please.

  5. Nothing like a bit of public embarrassment...The co-op bank saw all the fuss on Twitter and have reinstated Ben's account! I think they like to be perceived as the caring, sharing bank.

  6. Glad to hear it - has Ben confirmed this? A little bit of extra help will be good too I am sure.

  7. You should open a Nationwide account. Never had a problem with them, took me 3 days to open account. Co op doesn't like ex cons on its books.

  8. Tell the C0-OP you can do them a nice line in illegal drugs or cheap rent boys if they will reinstate your account.