Episode 9 Rip Off Britain


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Episode 9

Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville travel the country tackling sharp practices affecting consumers and investigating rip-offs and concerns both big and small.


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Transcript


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'We ask you to tell us who's left you feeling ripped off.'

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This is very, very wrong for what they have done.

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The bank piles charges upon charges upon charges.

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Legally, it was right. Morally, that's where the doubt comes in my view.

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'And you contacted us in your thousands by post,

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'email, even stopping us in the streets, and the message couldn't be clearer.'

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-They just try and fob you off.

-I'm not happy with them at all.

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-It's always that small print with the clause that you didn't realise.

-We're being ripped off big time.

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'Whether it's a deliberate rip-off, a simple mistake or a catch in the small print,

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'we'll find out why you're out of pocket and what you can do about it.'

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Keep asking the questions. Go to the top.

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We do get results.

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'Your stories, your money.

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'This is Rip-Off Britain.'

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Hello and welcome to Rip-Off Britain, the show that investigates your consumer troubles

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and then battles really hard on your behalf to get them resolved.

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Your letters and emails have given us plenty to get our teeth into,

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so as well as holding to account the companies big and small who have already let you down,

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we'll have invaluable advice to stop you being ripped off in future.

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Today, we have the banks in our sights.

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In the first six months of 2011, 150,000 of you took your complaints about the banks

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to the Financial Ombudsman and in nearly half those cases, the ruling was in the customer's favour.

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So that's a lot of big name banks getting things wrong. We'll hear about some of your experiences.

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Also coming up on today's show,

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the payments you just can't stop coming out of your account, however hard you try.

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I said, "It's my money. You're sat there. I'm telling you to stop paying it."

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And see what happened when we went on the road,

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solving problems in person at our pop-up shop.

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So let's get stuck in.

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The financial penalties for an unauthorised overdraft with some of the high street banks can be so high

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that miscalculating your outgoings by even just a few pounds can lead to huge charges.

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When Josie Lewis from Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire took on her bank, HSBC,

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what happened next was a classic David and Goliath struggle.

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Well, I started having many problems shortly before 2007

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because I'd been in and out of work and I had a fluctuating income.

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At this point, Josie said she went overdrawn on her current account

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and because it was unauthorised borrowing,

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she began to incur charges of up to £25 for each transaction

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and a vicious circle began.

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There's great pressure on because you're trying to earn enough money to keep going and pay essential bills,

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and it's very difficult because I'm not on a big wage, the bills come in.

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If you miss a payment, you've got all the letters coming in as well. You end up going round in circles.

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Josie's original overdraft of a couple of hundred pounds grew bigger and bigger

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as HSBC added on more and more charges.

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Half the time, you wouldn't know what bank charges you were paying.

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The bank is supposed to issue a list of fees and bank charges. I never received that.

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In the end, the bank charges themselves were keeping me overdrawn

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and the bank was charging fees and interest on top of their own bank charges.

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It got to the point where you could never keep up with the bank charges.

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By 2008,

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Josie was overdrawn by around £2,000

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and the vast majority of it wasn't even money that she had spent.

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It was bank charges.

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Josie felt so angry about that that she took it up with HSBC,

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but even so, while she was discussing it with them,

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the bank was calling her up almost every day, chasing the debt.

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In a matter of a few months, I had 150 phone calls,

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as many as 26 within two or three days.

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They were asking me for money.

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They were totally focused on the overdraft and trying to extract money from me.

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There were several phone calls. They were threatening, intimidating.

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They said, "Miss Lewis, you owe us money.

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"These phone calls won't stop unless you pay us the money."

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Unable to resolve the dispute with the bank by phone or letter,

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Josie decided to go into the branch where her account was held.

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I went to the bank first thing in the morning, thinking I could meet with the bank manager,

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talk things through on a one-to-one basis and that would help me enormously,

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but that's not how things went.

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Instead, Josie ended up having a confrontation with the bank manager

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and that was the point when she decided she wanted to try and end her relationship with HSBC.

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I wrote to the bank. I said, "I want my account frozen.

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"No transactions allowed to go out of that account

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"and you will take no direct debits and no standing orders."

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Josie knew that she was within her rights to freeze her HSBC account.

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She had read up on banking rules,

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so thought she'd found the answer to stopping the charges escalating further, but it didn't work.

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Though she had been paying off her debt from another account,

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HSBC continued taking money from the frozen account and adding on yet more charges.

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When I discovered they had continued taking money from my account up until March '09, I was absolutely livid.

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She complained and HSBC refunded the money that they had taken since the account was frozen.

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But by then, Josie was so incensed, she took her fight a stage further.

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In 2010, I took the bank to court on the grounds of harassment for a disputed debt

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and the lack of duty of care in handling my account.

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And she won.

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In June of this year, the judge ordered HSBC to pay Josie £2,070 compensation,

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£570 for poor management of her account,

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plus £1,500 for the harassing phone calls and the confrontation at her branch.

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The judge also ruled, though, that she did still owe the bank more than £5,500

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for legitimate charges and interest.

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In 2006, Stephen Hone also took legal action

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over charges that a different bank had made to his account.

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The bank settled out of court,

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but Stephen still campaigns over what he calls "profit-making penalty charges".

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He believes consumers are not given enough information about the bank's charging structures.

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It's a minefield and finding them on their websites is a task in itself.

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They're not straightforward or clear.

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It should be a fixed fee at the cost for banks to administer that charge

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or give you that letter which is probably about £3.50. That's a fair charge.

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Rip-Off Britain contacted HSBC about Josie's case.

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They told us they'd apologised for the stress that they had caused her

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and regret the way that they dealt with her complex financial situation.

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They blame an administration error for the fact that Josie continued to get calls about her debt

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when they had agreed that she wouldn't

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and they've offered to cancel her outstanding debt, plus meet her legal costs,

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all very good news for Josie, but she still has very strong views

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about the way that charges can escalate so quickly.

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The bank piles charges upon charges upon charges

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and then you end up with this spiralling debt that you can never get out of.

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The British Bankers' Association has recently announced a whole raft of improvements,

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designed to help current account holders avoid getting into a situation like Josie's.

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These include alerts when account balances get close to the overdraft limit

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and wriggle room with charges, so they won't apply if you're only a little bit in the red.

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Big companies don't always make things easy to understand

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and it can be confusing trying to work out why you haven't ended up with what you'd expected,

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so if you feel bogged down, we've put together a booklet of tips and advice.

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You can find a link to the free guide on our website.

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Or to receive a copy in the post, send an A5 self-addressed envelope

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to the address that we'll be giving at the end of the programme.

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Now, more on an extraordinary problem that we first featured in our last series,

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but one that is still leaving many of you thoroughly frustrated.

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It is to do with recurring payments

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which are regular payments taken from your bank account, like a direct debit,

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but with one crucial difference.

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If you try and stop them, you may find that you can't.

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# Young at heart... #

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Ann Bainbridge has always cared about her appearance.

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She knows the products she likes and what works best for her.

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But she doesn't shy away from trying something new.

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I don't like going out looking untidy.

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I like my make-up on and I like to be dressed nice.

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I don't spend an awful lot.

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If I see something and think, "That's a nice colour," and it's not too expensive, I'll buy it.

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Ann and husband Eric, who live near Hartlepool,

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are regular internet users

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and it was while she was online that Ann was tempted by an advert

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that unexpectedly popped up on her screen, inviting her to test some collagen anti-ageing cream.

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It was advertising a sample or, as they call it, a trial.

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I always assume, when you get a trial or tester or whatever in the stores,

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you get a little piece or a sachet or whatever.

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I thought, "Well, for £3, it's worth giving it a go."

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Ann paid online with her debit card and when the product arrived several weeks later,

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she was surprised at how big it was.

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I thought, "That's a nice sample," and thought no more about it

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until three weeks or so later,

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this other one came.

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I thought they must have made a mistake.

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For Eric, alarm bells had already begun to ring.

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But as Ann had purchased the cream through a pop-up advert,

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there was no paperwork or confirmation email for them to check what she'd signed up to.

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It looks bad. And I said to her, "There'll be more to come."

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Sure enough, it kept coming and coming.

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# Keep young and beautiful... #

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It wasn't until Eric began checking their bank statements

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that the couple realised the tubes weren't samples.

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They had been charged for each one

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at £96 a pop.

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They had known nothing about it, but up to that point,

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almost £500 had already been taken out of their account to pay for the face cream.

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Horrified, they contacted their bank to try to stop the payments

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and that was when they got an even bigger shock.

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The bank couldn't help.

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They said they couldn't stop the payments.

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It was an ongoing contract or whatever they call it, which we'd never heard of.

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I said, "It's my money. You're sat there. I'm telling you to stop paying it." "We can't do that."

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The Bainbridges were told that because Ann had unknowingly signed up

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to what's called "a continuous payment authority",

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only the supplier of the products that was based in America had the power to stop the money being taken.

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The couple tried emailing the company, but got no response.

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And having reached a brick wall with their bank, they went online to do some research

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where they quickly found dozens of similar complaints.

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I mean, did you see that one here? "I too have fallen foul of this scam."

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Ann wishes there was some sort of record of what she had signed up to,

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but suspects that that pop-up ad may have been deliberately unclear.

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I don't know if there was small print there. Maybe there was.

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I might have been stupid for not reading it or I've read it and not taken it in.

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I could kick myself. I really could.

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I feel silly.

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With the beauty company still slapping on the payments every month and cream arriving in the post,

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in desperation, the Bainbridges contacted Trading Standards.

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It wasn't the first time they'd come across this extraordinary problem.

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Continuous payment authorities became popular

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for internet services, insurance.

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A lot of people give their card details and it will be a rolling contract each year.

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When you're dealing with a legitimate company who accept your cancellation, there's no problem.

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When the company is based outside the UK, it is more difficult to cancel,

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or if it's a rogue trader, once they've got your card details, you're open to fraud.

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Eventually, Trading Standards investigations got a result.

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They were able to get a response from the company who agreed to stop sending more orders.

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They also promised to reimburse the Bainbridges for three out of the eight payments that were taken,

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but that still leaves them £600 out of pocket.

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Surely, the financial people know that this goes on. I mustn't be the only one that's complained about it.

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Ann still desperately hopes that she will get the rest of her money back.

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We contacted the company to ask when that might happen,

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but as yet, we've had no reply.

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In the meantime, she wants others to be aware of the dangers of signing up to receiving samples online

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and paying for goods using a continuous payment authority.

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I only hope anybody watching this programme,

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because I have sat here and felt foolish for getting involved in the first place,

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that they don't have the hassle that we've had.

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All we've thought about is how can we stop it, how can we stop it, how can we stop it.

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So how can you avoid getting trapped into a continuous payment?

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Sarah Pennells from Savvy Woman has some top tips for you.

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Be careful if you've bought something from a website you're familiar with

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and you're offered discounts from a range of online retailers.

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It could be that you're being signed up for a membership club

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where if you don't cancel within 30 days, money will be taken from your credit card every month.

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The law says that if you're being asked to part with your money, the company must make that very clear,

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but it may still be within the small print in their terms and conditions,

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so check really carefully if you think you're getting a discount for free. You may not be.

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If payments have been taken and you're not happy about it, complain to the discount company.

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If you've not used the discounts, you should get a full refund.

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If you've paid by credit or Visa debit card,

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you may be able to approach your bank to ask them to reverse the transaction.

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Make sure you do complain. The chances are that if you're unhappy, somebody else is as well.

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Britain may be facing a debt crisis with millions of us feeling the pinch every single day,

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but figures from 2009 suggest that between us all,

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we've got an estimated £1,153 billion tucked away in savings.

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Sounds incredible. Sadly, with today's rock bottom interest rates,

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the rewards for being thrifty with your money are no longer what they once were.

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Here's a couple who didn't know how much things had changed until they worked out how much they'd lost.

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For decades, the local high street bank seemed a reliable place to watch your money grow

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under the careful eye of your friendly bank manager.

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Those were the days, but today, all that feels long gone.

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The human face has been replaced by internet banking or a distant voice down the telephone.

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Even so, the Independent Commission on Banking, a major review into the industry published in September,

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found that the average customer switches their main account just once every 26 years.

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So why are we all so loyal?

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Meet semi-retired orthopaedic surgeon Roop Tandon.

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His savings allow him to give his time and expertise for free

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-at the Hunterian Surgical Museum in London.

-Have you come from far?

-Dublin.

-That's quite far.

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Roop and his wife Mary have been faithful customers of the Halifax since 1972.

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Then 20 years ago, Mary took out a variable rate ISA Saver with their branch.

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With regular deposits and healthy interest rates, the years passed and their savings grew.

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Then earlier this year, they decided to have a peek at how their nest egg was doing.

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They were pleased to see that in 2008,

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Mary had received over £1,000 in interest on her savings of 28,000,

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but they were shocked when they saw that the figures for the following year were very, very different.

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For 34,000 in 2010,

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she receives £76 interest

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and I'm sure the girl who updated this must have realised,

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but the girl never said.

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And the following year, Mary received just £68

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which means that over three years,

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her interest rate has suddenly plummeted from about 4.5% to just 0.2%,

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a huge drop that neither of them had spotted.

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I mean, I must have been nuts not to notice that.

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You know...

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It's like lots of things. Once you know about it, it's glaringly obvious.

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I think they should have mentioned it, "You're getting this low interest, there are other products.

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"Why do you not invest? You've got a large sum of money.

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"34,000 is quite a large sum of money and you will get more interest."

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The new rates would have been included in their annual statements.

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Even so, as loyal customers for 40 years,

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the Tandons feel somebody at the bank should have brought a drastic change to their attention,

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but as financial journalist Victoria Bischoff is about to remind them,

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the climate for savers is changing fast.

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When they were advertising this account, it was probably a good rate.

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They want to get new customers in,

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then rely on these customers staying with them for year after year, then they'll reduce their rates.

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They rely on people not checking it enough. They can get away with it.

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As Mary was on a variable rate ISA,

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the Halifax technically haven't done anything wrong by changing the interest payments

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and they're not the only bank that's dramatically dropped its rates.

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But Roop thinks that in the good old days, their bank manager just wouldn't have let this happen.

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How I was brought up, the bank manager had a complete relationship and I had a complete faith in him.

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All my salary went into the bank and he would advise me and say,

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"You've got more money. Put it in this. This is a better rate."

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Roop certainly had a bone to pick with Halifax and decided to really take them on.

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His tenacity led them to putting Mary on a new fixed rate

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and giving her an additional £819 interest for one of the years that she had lost out on.

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The fact that he got any money back is pretty impressive.

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The lesson is to be persistent, to call up and to fight for it.

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You never know what could happen.

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People accept what their bank manager or bank staff tell them without questioning it or fighting back.

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We asked the Halifax about the couple's experience. They said they understand the Tandons' concerns,

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but they encourage all customers to keep track of interest rates

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which they can see on their statements, in their branch and now also online.

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Customers with savings accounts are entitled to an annual savings review

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to discuss the different options available.

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But despite the bank's efforts to make amends, Roop and Mary feel that their loyalty was all one-sided

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and are now considering taking future investments somewhere else.

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What I have learnt is that one has to be very vigilant with accounts. You need to check them regularly.

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And shop around and get the best deal. Forget about being loyal.

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And I have proudly banked with Halifax and no one else. When this happens, it's very upsetting.

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Very sad.

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In September this year, the Independent Commission for Banking released its long-awaited review

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which called for greater competition between the banks so that customers can get a better service,

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but it still pays to be pro-active and keep a careful eye on your cash.

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It's in your interest to make sure that every penny in the bank is working as hard for you as it can.

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Still to come: we set up a pop-up shop for consumer advice and we were rushed off our feet.

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People are afraid to make a fuss, but if the situation's difficult and you can't get out of it,

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say, "Am I being treated fairly?"

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Planning for your future is increasingly important in the current financial situation,

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but where to put your money? It's a very important decision.

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For many, the bank or building society seems the safest option, but not for Margaret and Brian.

0:22:550:23:03

When they tried to cash in the savings they put in their building society 25 years ago,

0:23:030:23:09

it appeared to have vanished.

0:23:090:23:11

Margaret and Brian Mitchell are preparing for a fantastic milestone, their golden wedding anniversary.

0:23:140:23:21

To mark their big day, they have some pretty big plans.

0:23:210:23:26

We are planning to go to Spain. We went their for our silver anniversary, so we're going back.

0:23:260:23:33

And we would like to go to the places we went to for our 25th.

0:23:330:23:38

Back in 1984, the Mitchells opened three bank accounts - two with the Halifax for their grandchildren,

0:23:380:23:45

and a high-interest one with Abbey National. The plan with that one was to deposit some money,

0:23:450:23:51

then not touch it again until their 50th wedding anniversary.

0:23:510:23:57

We went in with the money and talked to the people behind the counter

0:23:570:24:02

who said it was a very good idea to leave that money in to grow

0:24:020:24:06

and we wouldn't have to save up five years before. It would just sit there and get bigger and bigger.

0:24:060:24:13

So they paid £620 into the account and left it, ready for the future.

0:24:150:24:20

The years rolled by and everything seemed to be in order.

0:24:200:24:24

Periodically, they would drop in to check if the account was OK and be assured that everything was fine.

0:24:240:24:31

Some years later, in 2004, the Abbey was taken over by Santander

0:24:310:24:36

and then, a few months ago, the moment came when it was time to withdraw their money.

0:24:360:24:42

I went down and I said to the guy behind the counter, "Can I withdraw my money from an account we've had

0:24:420:24:49

"for quite a long time?" He said, "No problem."

0:24:490:24:53

He went to have a look at the account and came back and said, "I'll have to see my manager,

0:24:530:24:59

"but I should think it's all right. It's your money."

0:24:590:25:03

But there was a problem, though they had no idea yet just how big it was.

0:25:030:25:10

Because the account was opened when the bank was still the Abbey,

0:25:100:25:14

they were told the branch needed all their paperwork to track it down.

0:25:140:25:19

So we went back, gave them all the paperwork that he wanted and he sent it away to his head office.

0:25:190:25:25

We got a letter back which more or less tells me the money's not ours.

0:25:250:25:30

We don't own it any more.

0:25:300:25:33

Santander's letter said they couldn't trace the account or the money.

0:25:330:25:38

They suggested that perhaps it had been closed in the past

0:25:380:25:42

and said because they weren't required to keep details of accounts going back more than six years,

0:25:420:25:48

they were unable to assist further.

0:25:480:25:51

The letter we got back, I do believe they were thinking that we were trying to steal our own money.

0:25:510:25:58

And to be able to keep records for six years is a bit much when other people keep them longer.

0:25:580:26:05

Because there had been no activity on their account since they opened it 27 years ago,

0:26:070:26:13

it would have been classed as a dormant account.

0:26:130:26:17

There's an estimated £400 million in dormant accounts in the UK.

0:26:170:26:23

The government is now planning to use this lost or forgotten money to fund the Big Society.

0:26:240:26:32

We have already said we will create a Big Society bank to help finance social enterprises, charities

0:26:320:26:38

and voluntary groups. And I can announce today that it will be established using every penny

0:26:380:26:45

of dormant bank and building society account money allocated to England.

0:26:450:26:51

It leaves a bitter taste. It's not a nice letter.

0:26:510:26:56

Margaret and Brian don't want their money going into the Big Society! They want it given back to them.

0:26:560:27:03

And their annoyance is directed solely at Santander.

0:27:030:27:07

The Halifax accounts they opened in 1984 are absolutely fine.

0:27:070:27:12

There may yet be some good news because Santander say they have now been successful

0:27:120:27:18

in locating Margaret on their systems and are working on finding Brian's records.

0:27:180:27:24

They are still investigating and promise to keep us updated.

0:27:240:27:29

But the Mitchells are flabbergasted that this situation could arise.

0:27:290:27:34

BRIAN: It makes me angry in the way that Santander are a big company.

0:27:340:27:39

We are talking about a drop in the ocean here.

0:27:390:27:43

As far as I'm concerned, it's very, very wrong what they have done.

0:27:430:27:48

If you had no idea that an untouched account could become classified as dormant,

0:27:510:27:57

you're in very good company. Believe it or not, there are an estimated 500,000 dormant accounts in the UK

0:27:570:28:04

meaning hundreds of thousands of pounds lying unclaimed or forgotten.

0:28:040:28:09

Financial expert Kevin Mountford has some top tips of what to do if you think one of them is yours.

0:28:090:28:16

If you believe you've possibly got a lost or dormant account, there are positive steps you can take.

0:28:160:28:22

The easiest is to go into the official website:

0:28:220:28:28

This is sponsored by the British Banking Association and is a free of charge service.

0:28:280:28:34

Remember, when you initially opened the account, it could have been in a different name.

0:28:370:28:43

The chances are it was a different address.

0:28:430:28:47

The official website - mylostaccount.org.uk - is set up for those people who believe

0:28:470:28:53

they've got a building society or bank account. For National Savings and Investment, access their website

0:28:530:29:00

and they have a tool that allows you to put information in to match you up with any unclaimed prizes.

0:29:000:29:08

The one thing you mustn't do is pay for any of these services.

0:29:100:29:14

There is a commitment on behalf of the banking sector to marry as many of these lost funds up

0:29:140:29:20

with the right customer and so the services are free of charge.

0:29:200:29:25

We're here at our pop-up shop in Manchester and it's another busy day for advice and complaints.

0:29:270:29:34

You may think this is a Tardis, but this is our gripe box.

0:29:340:29:38

I wish I'd had this all my life. There's nothing I like better than getting it all off my chest.

0:29:380:29:45

So I'm about to gripe a lot!

0:29:450:29:47

I'm one of those people who tend to go to an energy company or a bank or whatever the situation is

0:29:470:29:53

and I stay with them. I'm loyal. But these days it drives me nuts. There's no compensation for loyalty.

0:29:530:30:01

Banks, for example, will give you no extra interest because you've been with them for years and years.

0:30:010:30:07

They'll only give extra to new customers.

0:30:070:30:11

Another person feeling upset by banks after years of loyalty is Bill.

0:30:110:30:17

Bill, welcome to our pop-up shop. You have a problem. Tell us what it is.

0:30:170:30:22

I have an issue with the bank who have charged me excessive overdraft charges.

0:30:220:30:29

-And you just can't get on top of that?

-The interest seems to catch up all the time, it overlaps.

0:30:290:30:36

Martyn, he's a loyal customer of the bank, he's not ever been in arrears with them before.

0:30:360:30:44

What do you think his position is?

0:30:440:30:46

Sometimes people just complain about the size of the charge. You can't.

0:30:460:30:50

But if you've told the bank about the problem,

0:30:500:30:55

and they've failed to help you, that's a complaint and the ombudsman sees many complaints like this.

0:30:550:31:02

While Martyn looks into this further, Gloria is grappling with figures of her own

0:31:020:31:08

-in the BBC Learning area.

-A big part of our pop-up shop has been BBC Learning. This is Cat.

0:31:080:31:16

What is the premise of the course that you've been doing?

0:31:160:31:20

Our site is Maths and English for adults. It's about using them to help you to stop getting ripped off.

0:31:200:31:28

So is it a question of giving people more confidence in managing their affairs, managing their accounts,

0:31:280:31:35

-their spending?

-Absolutely. Empowering the person to ask the right question.

0:31:350:31:40

We're about saying it's not scary. This is what you need to know to help you get by.

0:31:400:31:46

Martyn's been finding out more about Bill's excessive overdraft charges and it looks as if he has a case

0:31:460:31:52

for more help from the bank.

0:31:520:31:55

Where you've done everything the right way, let the bank know,

0:31:550:31:59

we'd expect the bank to step back and take a pragmatic look at this

0:31:590:32:03

and say this is not going to get any better, let's see what we can do in terms of stopping the charges.

0:32:030:32:11

Look back on what's happened before and see if there's a way to re-set the clock. You start again,

0:32:110:32:18

and you're not running to catch up. Often people are afraid to make a fuss or think it's their fault,

0:32:180:32:25

but if it is getting difficult and you can't get out of it, say, "Am I being treated fairly?"

0:32:250:32:33

If you don't think that's so, speak to your bank or building society

0:32:330:32:37

and there are organisations designed to help. The key thing is to find someone who will do it for free

0:32:370:32:43

-and won't charge you to complain.

-Good advice.

-Thank you.

-Bill, thanks for coming in.

0:32:430:32:50

Last year, Rip-off Britain spent lots of time investigating bank charges.

0:32:530:32:59

We challenged the banks and building societies over excessive penalties

0:32:590:33:04

for letters, missed payments and direct debits and in many cases these were substantially reduced.

0:33:040:33:11

But it seems some institutions are pretty clever at finding ingenious new ways to keep hold of your cash.

0:33:110:33:17

How about a building society that charges for NOT using your account?

0:33:170:33:23

Steve Gough is a musician and he banks his cash with Norwich and Peterborough.

0:33:230:33:28

In fact, he has a few accounts with them

0:33:280:33:32

and he's always been happy with the service he got until one day in January they suggested

0:33:320:33:39

he change to a different account.

0:33:390:33:42

They said it would be in my interest to go onto the new light account.

0:33:420:33:47

Because I was a light usage user, this account would be better than the one I had.

0:33:470:33:53

So I trusted their judgment and went along with that.

0:33:530:33:57

Steve's new so-called light account is the one he uses to manage the income and outgoings

0:33:570:34:03

on a buy-to-let property he owns.

0:34:030:34:06

I didn't notice any real difference, so I was quite happy to stay with them

0:34:060:34:11

and the new account that I had.

0:34:110:34:14

But not long after changing accounts, Steve spotted a little addition to his monthly statement.

0:34:140:34:20

I noticed I'd got a low usage charge and I didn't really understand why that was.

0:34:200:34:26

So I then contacted the bank as to why I was being charged £5.

0:34:260:34:30

It turns out Norwich and Peterborough charge what they call "a low usage fee"

0:34:300:34:36

of £5 for any month when there are any fewer than five transactions.

0:34:360:34:41

In other words, a charge for not using your account.

0:34:410:34:45

I don't make that many transactions because there are direct debits that go out for the mortgage

0:34:450:34:52

and the incoming rent. So it's a fairly low usage account.

0:34:520:34:57

Occasionally, it will go five, six, seven transactions, but there are times when it might only be three.

0:34:570:35:04

Frustrated at having to pay what he considered a bank charge to far,

0:35:040:35:09

Steve has come up with a creative way to get round it.

0:35:090:35:14

I asked if I could do a standing order to put £1 from one account to another. They said that was fine.

0:35:140:35:20

So I'm quite happy to do that. It seems crazy, but it avoids charges.

0:35:200:35:25

Steve's money merry-go-round involves moving that £1 back and forth between two accounts,

0:35:250:35:31

just enough times for him to avoid the fee.

0:35:310:35:34

Norwich and Peterborough say there are costs in providing a full current account,

0:35:340:35:40

which is designed to be a transaction account, with money going in and out regularly.

0:35:400:35:46

They say if Steve is not willing or able to meet the minimum usage criteria,

0:35:460:35:51

this account may not suit his needs and they'd be happy to help him find one that does.

0:35:510:35:58

Which slightly overlooks the fact that they suggested he open this account in the first place!

0:35:580:36:04

They said that this account would suit me.

0:36:040:36:08

Steve's not sure it's better for him, though he can see it's better for them,

0:36:080:36:14

but it seems wherever you bank, unexpected rules and fees could be on the rise.

0:36:140:36:21

These organisations are businesses and they have to make profit.

0:36:210:36:25

They realise they have profitable and non-profitable customers

0:36:250:36:29

and there's increased terms and conditions on many accounts now

0:36:290:36:34

and unless we're really aware of it, we'll fall foul and it'll end up costing us money.

0:36:340:36:40

At least Steve's ingenious system means he's avoiding that,

0:36:400:36:44

so for the moment he's keeping his account at Norwich and Peterborough.

0:36:440:36:49

I don't have a problem with the staff, but I think the way things are set up and my account is,

0:36:490:36:55

there's not an alternative account that I can take out with them, so I'll continue doing it this way.

0:36:550:37:01

For Rip-off Britain viewers, the very word banking raises not only anger

0:37:030:37:09

but feelings of being totally let down by their banks with excessive overdraft charges,

0:37:090:37:15

not being able to get money from dormant accounts or being charged for not using the bank enough!

0:37:150:37:21

So we've got a few questions to put to Brian Capon from the British Bankers' Association.

0:37:210:37:26

Brian, the banks are in the firing line. We have many, many questions

0:37:260:37:31

but the majority seem to be about unauthorised overdraft charges.

0:37:310:37:36

How do the banks justify that?

0:37:360:37:38

Well, if you're going into the red, going over your limit without arranging that in advance,

0:37:380:37:45

that triggers a whole series of things that the bank has to do. Do we pay this item?

0:37:450:37:52

They have to do a credit assessment because the bank doesn't know why you've gone overdrawn.

0:37:520:37:58

But if you have been charged for a relatively small amount and you do feel that's unfair,

0:37:580:38:04

do talk to your bank to see if they'll consider refunding it.

0:38:040:38:09

A lot of our mailbag says it's well nigh impossible to get any kind of personal service.

0:38:090:38:15

We all bang on about the good old days, when you could go in, see your bank manager and get results.

0:38:150:38:20

-Nowadays you're answered in India or Fiji.

-Certainly the intention of having call centres

0:38:200:38:27

is really to provide a contact point that you can use any time, in many cases 24 hours a day.

0:38:270:38:34

In most cases, you don't need to talk to the manager in person. It can be arranged at arm's length.

0:38:340:38:42

In reality, it's just impossible to provide that one-to-one personal service to every single customer

0:38:420:38:49

-unless, of course, you go towards private banking.

-You say that,

0:38:490:38:54

but one bank brought their services back from a foreign country because of the complaints.

0:38:540:39:00

It's this faceless aspect of banking that's perturbing.

0:39:000:39:04

The decision where you'll have your call centre, in this country or elsewhere,

0:39:040:39:10

is one of those commercial decisions that any organisation, a bank or whoever, will make.

0:39:100:39:16

Banks do listen to their customers, in spite of what you might think.

0:39:160:39:21

They do take account of that feedback and in that sort of case the decision's been made

0:39:210:39:27

if that is the overwhelming wish of our customer base, then we will take that route.

0:39:270:39:33

Let's look at interest rates. This seems to be a minefield.

0:39:330:39:38

-How do you expect people to keep pace with it?

-Banks will advise people when the rates change.

0:39:380:39:45

That can either be through newspaper advertisements or it can be direct to the customer.

0:39:450:39:50

If that drop is more than 0.5% over a rolling one-year period, then they must advise the customer.

0:39:500:39:58

But there's no recompense for loyalty. After 30, 40 years,

0:39:580:40:02

there's nothing. The whole emphasis is on new customers.

0:40:020:40:06

It's very competitive out there. Banks focus on different things,

0:40:060:40:10

different communications with their customers. But there are decent rates out there.

0:40:100:40:17

Generally, rates are very, very low.

0:40:170:40:19

But as the governing body overlooking all the banks,

0:40:190:40:24

what do you want to see them doing in the future to try to regain this confidence?

0:40:240:40:30

We want to improve customer relationships and confidence.

0:40:300:40:34

Banks are certainly looking at being open, being open and transparent with the customers.

0:40:340:40:40

They don't want any nasty surprises and that goes for both sides. Everybody is fixed on the same goal.

0:40:400:40:47

They want to regain that confidence, but it's going to take some time and we have to be realistic.

0:40:470:40:54

-Brian, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

-Thank you.

0:40:540:40:58

Here at Rip-off Britain, we're always ready to investigate more of your stories.

0:41:000:41:06

Confused over your bills? Trying to wade through endless small print?

0:41:060:41:12

I might have been stupid for not reading it or I've not took it in.

0:41:120:41:17

I could kick myself.

0:41:170:41:20

Unsure what to do when you discover you've lost out and a so-called great deal has cost you money?

0:41:200:41:27

I thought, "This cannot be true. It's totally unacceptable." I was so angry.

0:41:270:41:33

You might have a cautionary tale of your own and want to share the mistakes you made with us,

0:41:330:41:39

-so others don't do the same.

-No one knows about this and I'd really like to get it much clearer.

0:41:390:41:46

You can write to us at:

0:41:460:41:49

Or send us an email to:

0:41:580:42:00

The Rip-off team is ready and waiting to investigate your stories.

0:42:050:42:10

As we've seen today, it's absolutely vital that you keep on top of your bank accounts

0:42:120:42:18

and on where your money is going. If you do find yourself heading towards your overdraft limit,

0:42:180:42:24

-don't ignore the problem.

-This is the worst thing you could do.

0:42:240:42:29

Ignoring it won't make it go away.

0:42:290:42:31

It's far better to alert your bank to try to agree a temporary solution until you can replenish your funds.

0:42:310:42:39

And if your bank account isn't working for you, look around

0:42:390:42:44

and see what other accounts are on offer. That's it for today.

0:42:440:42:48

-Join us again when we'll tackle more of your consumer nightmares. See you soon.

-Bye-bye!

-Bye now!

0:42:480:42:55

Subtitles by Subtext for Red Bee Media Ltd - 2011

0:43:060:43:10

Email [email protected]

0:43:110:43:13

Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville investigate why viewers have been left out of pocket. Whether it is rocketing energy prices, unexpected bank charges, or a catch in the small print that has had devastating consequences, they will get answers from the companies responsible. Plus, the team have been on the road, tackling consumer complaints face to face at the Rip Off Britain pop-up shop.