I’m not a customer of the Abbey National Bank. I’ve heard so many bad things about the company that it would just never cross my mind to trust my money with them. In the list of things more preferable to being a customer at that particular banking institution I might include:
- umbrella up the backside … then opened,
- an evening with anybody who has ever appeared on Blind Date,
- employment as Marc Almond’s stomach-scrubber.
Of course, the reason I know that Abbey’s reputation as a business among many customers fluctuates between "Should have borrowed from the Mafia" and "Bless ’em! They employ the mentally crippled!" is because I have access to the internet.
Now let’s take my father: my father does bank with the Abbey National. Oh noes!!1! He doesn’t have any of the internets! Yes, I’m afraid he trusted his earnings to them. And – just like so many other account holders – he’s probably been overcharged by the bank.
We don’t know for sure because – and you’ll like this – it appears the Abbey National Bank are incapable of telling him. They know, of course, one way or the other. They just can’t seem to part with this really quite useful information.
In the U.K. we have something called the Data Protection Act. It’s an act of law designed to protect data. One of the things it does is obligate any holders of data about an individual to divulge that data within 40 days of requesting for a nominal, maximum charge of £10.
If you ask for your data – your charges over the last five years, for example – from your bank then they MUST give you that data within 40 days AND you can’t be charged more than £10 for the privilege.
I thought I’d make that clear. It seems clear to me. Maybe it does to you. To the employees and management at Abbey it would appear that this is too complicated to grasp.
Let’s talk about my father again: he’s ill. Nothing major but – and this is quite important – it’s the sort of illness that is affected by, among other things, stress.
Dealing with a bank – any bank – can be stressful. When it comes to dealing with the Abbey National, though, Mogadon users turn green, rip their shirts off, and smash things into pulpy messes. If only they’d smash the executives into pulpy messes! Wishful thinking.
This post is simply an informative (perhaps) insight into how Abbey operates (if you’re not an Abbey customer then please accept my hearty congratulations and you might want to browse somewhere else; there’s little trademarked neOnbubble humour but dangit to heck! if I can’t get all serious every now and then when riled). Sure, their refusal to cooperate with my dad’s wishes and the fact this is affecting his health is a concern but that’s just a private one. Really, I just thought that it would be useful for customers of Abbey National to have some idea of what to expect should they find themselves in the unfortunate – but possibly inevitable – situation of seeing if they can recover any excessive bank charges. Let’s see how the bank handles its money and its customers.
Step One: Request Banking Data
You’ll take advantage of the provision in the Data Protection Act that allows you to request personal data held about you by an organisation. You’ll send a cheque for £10 made payable to Abbey National along with a letter requesting:
- a list of all bank charges levied against you over the past – ooh, let’s say – five years.
That’s what you’ll ask for because that’s what you’re entitled to. Notice that you won’t ask for:
- your bank charges cast in granite and delivered by sea eagles,
- a personal visit by your bank manager reciting your bank transactions in haiku format,
- phone numbers and undraped photographs of all female bank clerks aged between 18 and 26.
Why? Because you’re entitled to the data. But that’s it.
Step Two: Wait For Forty Days
Experience shows that you’ll wait for forty days without hearing a thing but it may be different in your case. It might only be thirty nine. Take the time to enrol in yoga or meditation classes. Learn to breathe deeply and picture calm things in your mind. None of this will help during the next steps but it’s apparently very good for you.
Step Three: The Response! The Response!
Abbey National will grudgingly respond eventually. You may have had to chase them up once and will receive an interim apology and some comment about how these things take time but you can ignore that lying waste of paper. Concentrate on the real response!
Here’s what you’ll get: NOT VERY MUCH.
What Abbey will do is send you a small amount of data – copies of your bank statements from the last six months, perhaps – and, in the accompanying letter, they will claim that the rest of the data is stored on the latest, high-tech storage system of the year 3000: THE MIGHTY MICROFICHE.
So what? Indeed. They’ll also mention that the Data Protection Act doesn’t require them to send the microfiche to you but that they can … for an extra fee far in excess of what they owe you, not that they know because computers haven’t been invented yet and they keep their record in drawers in the basement. And it’s all cobwebby down there!
They’re right. They don’t have to send you the microfiche. But …
- you didn’t ask for microfiche,
- you didn’t mention microfiche,
- you don’t want microfiche,
- you may not even know what microfiche is if you haven’t been in a library in years/ever,
- you asked for your data.
Your bank must provide the data. How they do it is their problem. Whether it costs them more than £10 to do so is their problem. That they must do it within 40 days is the law. They can provide you the data in any way they see fit, including:
- copies of your statement,
- a computer printout of charges,
- forming the charges using dwarfs arranged throughout the countryside and then taking you for a hot air balloon trip overhead to photograph the event,
- hiring monks (probably the ones with vows of poverty as they’re cheaper) to transcribe from the microfiche into a gold-leaf manuscript and then delivering it via a religiousesque procession.
It may be their problem but, after step three you’ll still find yourself in the unenviable yet all-too-common position of NOT having the data and having a bank who are breaking the law and knowingly lying to you, one of their customers of whom they care so much about. That must mean step four is about to step on stage.
Step Four: Report Abbey National Bank
You’ll browse to the Information Commissioner’s Complaints page and report Abbey National for a violation of the Data Protection Act. You won’t be the first. You won’t be the last. Abbey might be being fined huge amounts as a result of all these customer abuses; who knows and who cares! You’ve done your bit in trying to make them change their ways and treat their bank account holders as people rather than shit on the bottom of their shoes that they try to leave on as long as possible only because it makes them taller and more threatening to Tom Cruise. Something like that.
Step Five: The Reasonable Pleading
You’re probably British and complaining is an unseemly act that the colonials do but it does seem that your bank is taking the piss somewhat … perhaps you should write the bank another letter. Mention that you’ve reluctantly reported them to the ICO. Reluctantly point out that you are still entitled to your data and they still haven’t provided it and we’re well past the maximum 40 days allowance period. Pray to whichever religion is favoured by bank managers – one of the ones big on nightly visits from incubi and succubi at a guess – hoping for enlightenment and the formation of the phrase "customer satisfaction" into the head of just one person working at the bank and post it.
Step Six: Delaying Tactics
Abbey National is upset that you have a problem and if you’d like to … waffle, waffle, blah, mumbo-jumbo.
Step Seven: Sue Abbey National Bank
You’re going to have to sue the bank. I know, I know. How terribly unpatriotic of you. You have to try to remember:
- your bank doesn’t care about you,
- your manager sits in rooms with his cronies and laughs about you, claiming that you’ll give up because you’re weak and that you have a poor sex life owing to infectious genital warts,
- your bank breaks into your home and steals the coins down the back of your sofa too.
You’ll probably file a claim in the Small Claims Court – here’s the BBC’s guide and useful links – as long as you’re after less than £5000.
But wait! How do you know how much to claim for? If you remember … the Abbey failed to provide you with the data!
And now you know why.
You’re just going to have to take a guess. Don’t be greedy. And show your working out or you get no marks.
File your claim and wait for step eight …
Step Eight: Money!
Abbey National won’t dispute the claim because they are either:
- not intelligent enough to recognise a court summons,
- fully aware they’re about to get torn a new one,
- still well within the margins whereby it’s worth taking the fines and settling the claims without dispute of those who persevere through their delaying tactics rather than admit to a problem and face a company-closing legal payout en masse.
This means you get paid. This means you might even get paid more than you asked for in an "out of court" settlement. This means there might be some condition that you don’t tell anyone else about it attached. This means you do so anyway. Fuck them.
I hope this guide helps someone. If nothing else it’s helped me to vent a little after hearing all the stress my dad is getting from dealing with the Abbey. It’s my website. About time I used it for my benefit.