Friday, December 9, 2011

Barclays increases charges on basic accounts

By  James Hall, 6:26, Thursday 8 December 2011 Yahoo News
Barclays Bank (NYSE: BCS-PA - news) has trebled the potential fines that around a million of its poorest customers will pay if they try to withdraw money they do not have.

Under changes that will come into force next March, holders of Barclays’ most basic Cash Card bank accounts will be charged up to £24 a day if they have insufficient funds to cover direct debit withdrawals from their account. The maximum daily fine is currently £8.

Consumer groups said that the new rules could put people off opening bank accounts and mark a “backward step” for hard-pressed savers.

The bank’s Cash Card account is a no-frills account designed for savers on low incomes. The accounts do not have an overdraft facility. Although Barclays does not disclose how many Cash Card customers it has, industry experts estimate the figure to be around 1 million.

Under current rules, a customer is charged £8 a day if there are insufficient funds to cover direct debit payments going out of his or her account. This £8 is the daily maximum fine, no matter how many direct debit withdrawal attempts are made on the account.

From the spring, Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) will lift the cap so that customers are charged £8 every time that a withdrawal is attempted, up to a maximum of three times. This takes the total possible daily fine to £24.

In other changes, Barclays will stop sending out monthly paper statements and replace them with statements four times a year. However at the same time it will stop charging for text message alerts telling customers when they are running out of money. At the moment these cost £2 a month.

Oliver Morgans, financial services expert at Consumer Focus, the watchdog, said that the changes are a “backward step” that could increase financial exclusion among the poorest people in society.

“The Government already faces an uphill struggle to persuade customers to sign up to a bank account when many people distrust banks and the charges they make. These changes will make that hill even harder to climb,” said Mr Morgans.
“Living without a bank account can make it hard to live in the twenty-first century and can create financial penalties for the households who can least afford it,” he said.
Consumer Focus said that banks need to introduce minimum standards on their basic accounts to stop the UK’s poorest savers being hit by further changes. Recently Royal Bank of Scotland changed its policy so that its 1.1 million basic bank account customers can only withdraw cash at RBS’s cashpoints and not those of other banks.
A Barclays spokesman said that the changes have been made so that running the accounts remain “financially sustainable” from a business point of view.
The spokesman said: “Barclays Cash Card account is and remains the leading basic bank account in the market across the range of features it offers and levels of charging. We want to ensure this product remains financially sustainable so that we can continue to help those at risk of financial exclusion gain access to banking.”
He added that the changes it is making are based on “solid research of our customer base and Citizens Advice Bureau clients”.

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