Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
T.T. writes: Before lockdown, we visited the Isle of Arran branch of the Bank of Scotland, as we required £10,000 in cash the next day to pay for renovations to our holiday cottage.
We had been told that ID in the form of a UK or EU driving licence was sufficient, but at the bank the next day we were turned away and told that the Northern Ireland licence we produced was unacceptable.
Fiasco: The Arran error with Bank of Scotland cost a couple £425
Because you travelled from one part of the UK to another, you and your wife were not carrying passports, which would have proved your identity.
And the situation was made worse because bad weather meant you had to leave the island the next day. Returning to pay your builders the cash they wanted meant facing another £500 or so in travel costs.
But the real puzzle was why a Scottish bank would reject a driving licence that is issued in Northern Ireland, another of the nations that makes up the United Kingdom. That licence can be used as proof of identity when you vote, or get on a plane, or when you hire a car. It is accepted by the police, so why not by the Bank of Scotland?
The answer is that the bank does not tell its customers in its terms and conditions exactly what it will – or will not – accept as proof of identity for large withdrawals. Apparently this is for the bank’s own security reasons.
However, when you went to the trouble of enquiring before you needed the money, you should have been told that your Northern Ireland licence was useless.
Or was it? The Bank of Scotland tied itself in knots, telling me that it does accept Northern Ireland licences, but then saying at the same time that it refused to accept one from you or your wife because the branch was unable to carry out an unexplained security check.
I can tell you that this security check is in fact an independent system which the bank uses to validate all UK driving licences – with the slight snag that this system excludes Northern Ireland.
Despite this, Bank of Scotland branches are allowed to compromise, by checking the signature on a licence against a customer’s sample signature which it has on file.
And this led to a startling admission by the bank. It was your wife that asked for the £10,000, and the bank did not have her signature. She has been a customer for almost 40 years, and has regularly signed cheques and made withdrawals. But now the bank says it failed to keep any sample of her signature.
Bank of Scotland says it transferred sample signatures to computer, but failed to transfer Mrs T’s signature even though it kept on cashing her cheques.
Helpfully, staff told me that any customer can go to a branch and fill in a simple form to supply a signature. But of course, they have to know in the first place if the bank has failed to store their signature, so perhaps this is not so helpful after all.
The bank says it will only prompt customers like you after a problem has arisen, and not before.
You asked the Financial Ombudsman Service to look into what happened and it did. In a nutshell, the Ombudsman decided that whatever rules and terms the bank applied were its own business, even if they were not revealed to customers.
The bank gave you £75 to reflect the wrong advice it gave the day before your attempted withdrawal in Arran.
This reduces your loss to about £425, and that is a costly lesson in the failings of your bank, but which I have to say the Bank of Scotland shows no sign of having learnt, leaving other customers at risk of finding out the hard way.
That wasn’t a smart move, SSE
A.A. writes: We have received a letter from SSE Scottish Hydro, part of the Ovo group, saying: ‘Thanks for booking your smart meter installation.’
It gives a date and time when we have to be home for this, but we have consistently refused to have a smart meter.
We know utility companies have a Government target to meet, but making fictitious appointments is surely pushing the legal limits.
Concern: A.A. has consistently refused to have a smart meter but received a letter from SSE advising of an appointment to fit one
There cannot be many households that have not come under pressure to have a smart meter fitted, though thanking you for agreeing to an appointment when you said no is a strange way of convincing customers. What is worse, though, was the letter you received from SSE, threatening charges if you were not at home when the fitter called.
I asked SSE for a copy of any letter or recorded conversation in which you agreed to have a smart meter. It told you that you agreed by completing an online form, and it told me that there had been a phone call which their agent had ‘misunderstood’.
But neither of us was offered copies of the form or recorded call. And SSE denied you were threatened with any penalty if you missed the non-existent appointment. A shame, then, that I have in front of me SSE’s letter which tells you that ‘there may be a charge if no one is at home when our engineer arrives’.
SSE now says the threat was an empty one and it would not really have charged you. It also told me: ‘We have called Mr A to reassure him his smart meter booking is cancelled’. And SSE has credited your account with £30 for the inconvenience caused.
HSBC moved cash to ‘dead zone’
S.E. writes: My company hand delivered a letter to HSBC, asking the bank to close our US dollar account containing more than US$107,000 (about £82,000) and transfer the funds to our new account at Revolut.
A week later, the HSBC account was closed and disappeared from our online banking data.
To date though, the funds have never been credited to us at Revolut, despite almost daily chasing.
Missing: S.E. has had a frustrating time with HSBC after funds went missing
You have had a frustrating time with HSBC. You were repeatedly told that the manager you needed was away on a course, or not at his desk.
The bank offered no evidence that the transfer was actually made, which would have helped Revolut track it down.
And when you made a formal complaint, HSBC offered to respond within eight weeks. HSBC has offered no explanation, but it appears that a transfer code used between banks was mistyped as REV00, with two zeros, instead of the correct REVO0 – that is a capital letter O followed by a single zero. This was enough to send your dollars into a banking ‘dead zone’.
HSBC has apologised, made sure the transfer has gone through, and it has also added £1,182 in interest and £1,250 by way of compensation.
All credit to you on mortgage delay
Mrs J.D. writes: I checked my bank account and noticed that Barclays had not collected a mortgage payment.
We recently changed banks, and I had notified Barclays, so I rang and was told we should have been sent a new direct debit form. I transferred the payment of £170 immediately, three days after it was due, but I have found that Barclays told a credit agency we were in arrears.
And although I completed the new mandate, Barclays has not collected the next mortgage payment either.
I discussed this with Barclays and it accepts that you had not realised that closing your original bank account meant you needed to complete a new direct debit mandate.
Sensibly though, you did send the next mortgage payment in time to avoid it being regarded as late. Though Barclays should record the missed payment on your credit record, as it was three days late, staff now accept this was accidental and not an unwillingness to pay on your part.
As a result, the arrears note on your credit agency file has been removed.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.