Saturday, August 18, 2012

Closing an account? It should be child's play...

Mrs W has had a real battle with NS&I - the UK's state-owned investment and savings organisation - over her attempts to close accounts for the two mini-Ws. You'd think that closing an account and getting your money out should be a pretty straightforward affair, but not with this particular arm of government bureaucracy. It involved form filling and phone calls on a scale not seen since Leonid Brezhnev asked the KGB to register all the establishments selling vodka within a 500-mile radius of Moscow.

Anyway, after about three months of going backwards and forwards, the money did emerge and Mrs W was offered some modest compensation. We can forget it all and move on.

As a footnote, however, it's worth flagging up one complete and utter absurdity of the way NS&I handles accounts for children. It seems from Mrs W's correspondence and conversations that any kid over the age of seven, who may nominally be an account holder, is required to give permission for their parent to act on their behalf. Mum or dad phones up the call centre and tries to close down the account they opened for little Johnny, only to find the operative at the other end of the line wanting to speak to the lad himself.

'Is it ok if I talk to your parent about something you've never heard of and don't understand?'

The minis are quite a few years older now, so Mrs W was able to brief them. But if your kid really is seven or eight, the whole procedure is a farce. The youngsters are surely not capable of understanding what it is that they're consenting to. And if they fail to say 'yes' - perhaps because a Lego tower needs completing or Barbie's having her hair done - then their parents are up a well-known creek without paddle.

Now the accounts have been closed, NS&I have written to each of the mini-Ws separately, explaining the outcome of their investigation into mum's complaint. And here's where it starts getting stupid again. The letters are written in an a language that would bewilder any youthful recipient still awaiting formal admission to Mensa.

'As the account holder, I am writing to you directly due to our obligation to customer confidentiality...'

Let's leave aside the grammatical glitch here which suggests it's the writer of the letter who holds the account. Why would they expect any child to understand the notion of 'customer confidentiality'?

They then use phrases such as 'mishandling of correspondence' and 'discrepancy in our records', before going on to explain that the 'warrant' sent in compensation is just like a crossed cheque. My favourite sentence reads as follows: 'Our requirements should have been consolidated into one single letter instead of the multiple requests that were sent.'

Poor kids. They are being compensated for the failure of an organisation to cough up money they probably didn't know they had. And they're being told about it in a way which would leave them none the wiser.

Never mind though. If they're not happy, they are entitled to refer the matter to the Financial Ombudsman.

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