Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Slow clearing has 'lost millions'

Working Lunch's Simon Gompertz explains how the Faster Payments system works.

Customers have missed out on up to £82m because the launch of a new payments clearing service has been "slow", an Office of Fair Trading report says.

It wants banks to pick up the pace in offering the new Faster Payments service, when funds can be transferred between accounts within a day.

Customers have been losing out on interest because the system is only running at two-thirds capacity.

An industry body said the gradual launch was planned to avoid glitches.

All clear?

The system was planned because bank customers found it frustrating that transferring cash from one account to another at a different bank would mean the money disappeared for a few days.

Faster Payments moves the UK from being one of the slowest clearers of this kind of payment to being one of the fastest
OFT report

They were angry that they were losing out on interest, or finding themselves charged for going overdrawn when the funds did not clear in time.

As a result, 13 banks signed up to a system where customers can make one-off payments up to a maximum value of £10,000 over the telephone or via the internet, which will leave their account and arrive at the destination account on the same day. The system operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In fact, many payments are cleared within minutes.

BANKS OFFERING FASTER PAYMENTS
Abbey, Alliance and Leicester, Barclays, Citi, Co-operative Bank, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks (National Australia Group) HBOS, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, Nationwide Building Society, Northern Bank (Danske Bank), Northern Rock and Royal Bank of Scotland (including NatWest and Ulster Bank)

"Faster Payments moves the UK from being one of the slowest clearers of this kind of payment to being one of the fastest," said the OFT report.

But it stressed that the launch of the scheme had been delayed from the original target of November 2007 to May 2008 and would only reach full capacity by June 2009 at the earliest.

It found that in March, 69% of payments that should be made on the new quicker system were actually doing so, with consumers missing out on a "conservative estimate" of between £38m and £82m.

Sandra Quinn, of payments association Apacs, said the system was only ever meant to be brought in gradually, to ensure it worked properly. Individual banks were in charge of the reach of the service, and some had put a ceiling on the amounts it would accept under the system.

Speed up

Three banks were set to be operating the system for all telephone, internet and standing order payments by the end of this week.

It is a real let-down that so many bank customers are still waiting to see the benefits of faster payments
Pula Houghton, Which?

But HSBC will not offer faster standing order clearing until the middle of 2009, and Lloyds TSB quickly withdrew the service for online customers.

"Following feedback from our customers, about the online process for making Faster Payments, we took the decision to postpone the switch-on of internet Faster Payments," said a Lloyds TSB spokesman.

"We took this decision because we want to ensure that we can offer our customers the best possible service, before we switch back on. We aim to reintroduce the service later this year."

The explanations hold little water for some consumer representatives.

"It is a real let-down that so many bank customers are still waiting to see the benefits of faster payments," said Pula Houghton, from the consumers' association Which?.

"It has been almost a year and a half since the original deadline to implement same-day transfers, so why are so many banks dragging their heels?"

Andrew Hagger, of website Moneynet.co.uk, said: "Banks and credit card providers will not succeed on the back of competitively priced products alone.

"Customers are seeking a combination of first-class customer service and top-rate products in what is an increasingly competitive arena."

He said those banks which offered the scheme should advertise the fact that they would clear transfers quickly.

Banks involved

The OFT report suggested that the Payments Council, a body that oversees the way we pay for things, should improve the take-up of the scheme.

A cheque being written out
Cheques will still take time to clear

"Inevitably the OFT has pointed out some examples where the Payments Council will wish to review its performance and we will look at these closely," said chairman Brian Pomeroy.

There are 13 members signed up to the scheme at present, which they estimated has cost them a total of £300m.

They are Abbey, Alliance and Leicester, Barclays, Citi, Co-operative Bank, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks (National Australia Group) HBOS, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, Nationwide Building Society, Northern Bank (Danske Bank), Northern Rock and Royal Bank of Scotland (including NatWest and Ulster Bank).

Cheques operate on a different clearing system.

Since November 2007, interest must be credited no more than two days after a cheque has been paid in and the money must be available to be drawn out after no more than four days.

After six days, a cheque is deemed to have cleared absolutely and so banks cannot recoup money from a customer's account if they discovered the original cheque payment was fraudulent.



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