Bankers bashed on Brighton beach

Posted On 19 Jul 2010 at 10:00 pm

Brighton beach provided the backdrop to part of the BBC TV programme Panorama this evening.

Presenter Adam Shaw set up a fairground “test your strength” attraction complete with a hammer for customers to show their anger with their banks.

Shaw set up by the carousel just to the west of the Palace Pier.

Two years after the banking crisis – and the multibillion-pound government bailout – Shaw found plenty of anger from bank customers.

The programme also heard from Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable who said that banks were “ripping off” their customers.

He was responding to research that showed authorised overdrafts being charged at an average 32 per cent rate of interest even though the banks were advertising them at 19 per cent.

The base rate is 0.5 per cent.

Rates for unauthorised overdrafts at high street banks were being charged at as much as 167 per cent, although these attract less sympathy.

Mr Cable said: “When we talk about restructuring the banks, what’s going to come out of this is a more competitive system where the customers are not ripped off.”

He said that customers were paying the price for a lack of healthy competition in a sector dominated by a few big players.

“One of the negative side effects of this crisis is that our banking system that was already very concentrated is now even more concentrated so there’s less competition, less choice and bigger temptation for banks to earn margins at the expense of their customers,” he said.

According to the Office of Fair Trading, Britain’s banks earned £2.6 billion profit from penalty charges in 2006.

The British Bankers’ Association said that overdrafts were meant to be short-term measures and were used by a relatively small number of customers for a few days at a time.

“As overdrafts are designed for accounts where the balance only occasionally tips into the red for a few days, it is impossible to calculate accurate annual lending rates.

“The estimated costs are based on average figures and the amount of time overdrafts are used.”

Bank customers also complained to Panorama about Halifax, which is owned by the Lloyds Banking Group.

Lloyds received more than £20 billion from the taxpayer in the bailout in late 2008.

They said that Halifax was charging an effective annual rate of interest of 3,650 per cent on an overdraft of just £10.

Instead of charging advertised interest on overdrafts, the bank is instead charging a flat fee of £1 a day.

Over the course of a year, customers with small overdrafts end up paying a disproportionately high rate of interest.

Halifax said that customers “want a clear overdraft charging structure” and the £1 a day represented “a simple set of daily fees”.

The bank said that it offered a free “buffer zone” for overdrafts of less than £10 while most customers did not go overdrawn.

Merryn Somerset Webb, editor-in-chief of MoneyWeek, said of the Halifax policy: “It is very unfair because the interest rates effectively are much, much higher for people with tiny overdrafts than for very big overdrafts.

“So you can be penalised extraordinarily badly.”

However, FT commentator Matthew Vincent said: “I really don’t think they’re doing anyone any favours by devoting 30 minutes of prime time to yet another debate about unauthorised overdraft charges.

“Basically, there have always been two schools of thought on unauthorised overdrafts: those who think that instant free credit is some kind of human right, and those who think that spending other people’s money without permission is wrong.

Last November the Supreme Court decided which was correct. It wasn’t the former.

“Giving the impression that penalty charges for unauthorised borrowing are in some way ‘unfair’ or ‘anti-competitive’ – after all the economic damage caused by easy credit – seems bizarre.”

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