I’m writing this with a banging headache after about three hours of being angry and upset over a £3 ‘charge’ letter from my bank.
You may read this and think I’m being dramatic, or ridiculous. And I can understand why you’d think that.
If you are someone who hasn’t had a bad experience with banks when you’re absolutely skint – you won’t have ever had that panic when a ‘bad news’ letter comes through the door.
I have debt scars
You may or may not know about this, but I went through a hard couple of years financially. The calls demanding money, the knocks on the door, the Job Centre stress – it all took a toll on my mental health.
The good news is I’m not in that situation now, and in fact – my job is writing about finance and try to help others who struggle with money problems.
But issues still linger – I don’t answer the door if someone rings still (which I know is ridiculous because I don’t owe anyone any money!), and I don’t open my post. Well, I’ll open fun looking post – you know what I mean!
My boyfriend will do all that for me, but today, got home from work and opened up one from my bank.
Notification of returned item fee charge
This is what the letter said:
We’re writing to you as unfortunately there wasn’t enough money in your account to make the payment/s you arranged for today. Although your ballance looks right, the money is not available to be used.
As we have not been able to make this/these payment/s we will be charging a returned item fee. Returned item fees are £10 per payment we do not make, up to a maximum of three fees a day. Returned item fees reduced from £10 to £3 on 12 October 2019.
There are then three A4 pages of generic T&Cs about rates, and overdraft charges (I didn’t think I had one!). There is a bit about never charging more than £80.
My issue with the letter
I could not work out how much I actually owed from the letter. Sure, I had that shakey red mist when reading (the panic set in) – but it was far from clear.
It is an automated letter. Everyone gets the same thing, with no specific information about what you actually have to pay them. They expect you to be able to work it out yourself, which not everyone is able to do.
I called the bank up to ask them to explain the charges.
I asked how I was supposed to know how often they tried (because I get charged each time they try)? Did they do it three times every day? Just once?
Am I going mad here (maybe?), but I don’t see how I’d know how much I’d be charged in total.
What I would like to see
I could afford that money to be honest, was just sitting in a different account with the same bank. I can also afford the £3 (they did offer it back, but was furious to told them to keep it).
If this had been 10 years ago, and I’m not being dramatic, that £3 might have sent me into a terrible debt spiral.
I’m not even saying you can’t charge people for not having enough money in their accounts.
What I want banks to acknowledge that the kind of people who don’t have money to cover their costs are more likely to be vulnerable customers, who are more likely to have mental health issues alongside their money issues.
Make your letters clear. Use plain English. Tell your customer (who are probably stressing about money) just how much they owe you because of this fine, and why – in the letter.
Don’t make your customers call up a number upset to find out what they owe, if they are not able to do it themselves.
The number you provided (this was TSB) – to the people who have no money, so you fine them – was an 03459 number, which costs between 3p – 45p a minute. (Classy)
In your ‘bad news’ letters, I’d like you to link to independent companies/charities that can help people with their money and the stress you are likely causing them. The Money and Mental Health Institute is a good place to start.
Thinking about your customer’s needs is important. TSB, if you’re reading this – I’d be happy to work with you on improving your letters.
That said, if you’re unhappy with how your bank treats you (and I’m not), leave. With 7-day switching, it’s not hard.