Page last updated at 04:01 GMT, Saturday, 14 February 2009

Banks 'take payments by stealth'

Cut-up credit cards
Banks can legally take from current accounts to cover credit card debts

Banks are leaving people unable to pay mortgages by taking money from their current accounts to cover credit card and loan debts, a charity has claimed.

Citizens Advice is calling on banks to scrap the practice, which allows them to transfer funds without permission.

It says it has seen a 25% rise in the number of such cases in each of the past two years.

The British Bankers' Association says the onus is on customers to talk to their banks if they are in difficulty.

In most cases, companies can only force someone to pay a debt by taking them to court.

However, as BBC Radio 4's Money Box discovered, the Right of Set Off allows banks to legally transfer cash to pay credit card or loan arrears without account holders' permission.

Citizens Advice says there have been cases of people having benefit payments removed from accounts, leaving them unable to meet "priority debts" like mortgages and council tax.

The British Bankers' Association says cases where money has been removed "inappropriately" are regrettable but that banks take their responsibilities under the banking code seriously.

Money Box is on BBC Radio 4 on Saturdays at 1200 GMT and Wednesdays at 1500 GMT.

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