November 01, 2007

Everything I learned about unfair bank charges I learned from Abbey

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin:

I bank with Abbey. I like banking with Abbey; the Durham branch is right next to a bus stop, their online banking system is easy enough to use, and the staff in the branch are generally friendly. I'd never had any trouble with them until recently.

When I started my third year at Warwick (some time ago, now) my Student Account's overdraft limit reached its maximum of about £1600; a rather pleasant sum. All was well until September this year (the next academic year following my first year as a Graduate).

When I checked my balance online on the 3rd I discovered that I was suddenly a few hundred pounds over my overdraft limit. I was understandably shocked. After looking at the recent transactions and the current balance I came to the conclusion, quite rightly as it turned out, that no money had been taken from my account but that my overdraft limit had been reduced by £600.

I rushed into the branch to try to find out what had happened. It turns out that they gave notice of the reduction and that it's how the Graduate Account works; the overdraft limit is reduced each year (I assume each year; I've only had time to reach one so far...). I was certain then, and am still certain now, that I didn't receive a letter saying that my overdraft limit was due to shrink (more on that later). In retrospect it was somewhat wishful thinking to assume it wouldn't ever shrink, but I still didn't know in advance.

So it shrank at the start of September and I noticed on the 3rd. I transferred the hundred-ish pounds I still had in my savings account into my current account and begged the rest (a couple of hundred) off family to get me Back to Black. The reason I was in such a hurry was that my Vodafone bill was due out a few days later and I didn't want the Direct Debit to bounce. I contacted Vodafone, and they said just to cancel the Direct Debit with Abbey, so I did.

I got the money back into my account as quickly as I could, I contacted Abbey themselves to tell them to cancel the Direct Debit, and I saw on the next statement (up to 3rd Sep) that the £20 charge for going overdrawn had been waived because it's a graduate account and it was the first charge in 6 months (first for longer in reality, but that's how the feature works). I though it was a bit irritating of them to bill me when they made me overdrawn, but since it had been waived, since I was back in the black, and since Vodafone had eventually been paid I assumed this was the end of the matter.

I love the smell of wishful thinking in the morning...

A few weeks ago I made a large purchase that used up all the money I had in my account. Because of this I had to stop buying things for a few weeks while my income built the balance back up enough to cover the next Vodafone bill (I'd got the calculator out, and it would). Since I couldn't spend anything I wasn't checking my balance as often, because I couldn't do anything with it. This is why it was yesterday (31st Oct) when I noticed about sixty pounds of bank charges had been taken on the 25th. Again I was shocked, furious even, and still hadn't expected it (having already covered that fact I assumed the matter dealt with).

Having already covered the waived £20 for going overdrawn, these new charges were £25 for an "unauthorised overdraft monthly fee" despite being fined for going overdrawn and dealing with it within days and within the same month, £1.21 interest which I'm prepared to ignore, and £35 for the bounced DD to Vodafone despite asking Abbey themselves to cancel it.

And not only did I have these unexpected charges, but the charges put me over my overdraft limit again!

Fortunately I was already back in the black before I noticed because it put me only slightly over the limit and some money came in on Monday. But still, not only do I have these charges but I'm probably going to have more because the charges put me over the overdraft limit!

So I shot into the branch again and had a word with the Manager, who has no more power than the lowly cashiers I spoke to last time. She couldn't do anything, and couldn't even comment on the ridiculous size of the charges because of the active case started by Watchdog's report. While I was there, she did cancel the Vodafone DD for me again because it's due on Monday...

So I still had to leave the branch without satisfaction.

When I got back home I must admit I checked my latest statement and there was indeed a tiny section listing the upcoming charges. Well, dammit, I want a separate letter with big flashing lights; this is too important to risk being missed. This is obviously what happened when they shrank the overdraft: it wasn't a letter, but a minuscule note on a statement.

Anyway, that's the story so far (future events expected to be at least another charge for them making me overdrawn). Here's a summary:

  1. 1st Sep: Abbey shrank my overdraft limit without me realising, which put me over the limit without my bank balance changing.
  2. 3rd Sep: I noticed this, and went into the branch, and arranged for enough money to be transferred into my account.
  3. When next statement arrived: Noticed waived charge for going overdrawn (despite the fact I didn't technically; overdrawn went over me...). It was waived, so thought no more about it.
  4. 18th Oct: Spent a lot of money and had to not spend anything for the next fortnight to save up for Vodafone bill.
  5. 25th Oct: Unexpected charges were taken which put me back over the limit.
  6. 29th Oct: Money came in which brought me back into the black.
  7. 31st Oct: I checked my balance for the first time since a few days before 25th in preparation for the Vodafone payment

So there we are, Abbey made me overdrawn and charged me for the privilege. It's a stupid system; I could pull a better banking system out of my a$$, especially since there are at least two dollars in "a$$"...

The first thing I would do is send letters in BIG RED LETTERS to warn people of important things like charges and shrinking overdrafts. And speaking of letters, it's time to draft one to Abbey. I'm getting too old for this shit.

Also, as an aside, how many Pop Culture references can you spot? If memory serves, there are five.


- One comment

  1. This sort of thing happens all the time, but I know a guy who kept getting out of the red only to be charge for going into the red, which sent him back in the red… ad infinitum. He declared bankruptcy at the tender age of 21.

    HSBC have reduced my interest free overdraft limit as I’m now a graduate, but I can’t find the letter telling me what my new limit is. Their online system only tells me what my overall limit is. Not that they’re hoping I’ll go over of course… Sneaky buggers.

    01 Nov 2007, 17:36


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