Firstly, I'm back from Dublin – came back on Thursday. It was only a 2 day/1 night trip, and on that basis there wasn't really any chance to do any sightseeing, etc. But a good trip nonetheless. And yes, I managed to sneak a Guinness or 2 in.

Haven't had a proper dummy spit in the last few days… might as well get stuck into Bank Procedures again! I appreciate that there's rules & conditions, etc. to be observed when playing with peoples' money, however some banks manage that relationship with a degree of humanity and forgiveness, whereas mine are a pack of semi-capable jobsworths who are either just mean-spirited and on the lookout to screw over as much of the rest of the human race as possible, or just plain thick.

OK, on Wednesday I had a Direct Debit applied to my account – it was my phone bill, and I knew there wouldn't be enough money in the account, and that it was going to bounce. Regrettable, but unavoidable. So the next day I received the letter advising me of the fact that the bank were charging me their “unarranged borrowing” fee of £35. It's quite a painless way of losing money, really. What gets me was that the letter says that the fee is “to cover the cost of the work done at our end to resolve this matter”. Seems a bit steep for an almost certainly wholly automated task during which not a single bum cheek need be lifted from a chair surface. The other misnomer is that if you pay this unarranged borrowing fee, that you're in the clear – the bank rejects the debit, AND charges you the fee, so it's not like it's a fee to provide you with any kind of useful facility. More like a smack on the wrist with no constructive endpoint.

Another wholly non-rewarding facet of this transaction was that it left that particular account balance in the negative (hence, the point of it I guess). So they're perfectly happy to let me have my account in debt on the basis of a fee, but not on anything else… fine.

So far, so good – this is minor irritation, but not a showstopper. Late Thursday Charlie transferred some money over from the freelance work we'd been doing, so at least I knew that'd cover all the charges, plus the direct debit to come out Monday for our TV License.

On Saturday I was checking my balance to see if Charlie's transfer had come through, and noticed that the negative account was now £70 in the red, and upon inspecting a statement saw a further direct debit bounce charge applied to the account, dated August 1st. “Interesting”, I thought, given that it was Jul 30th – “They're now charging me for things I've don in the future!”. Can't say that banks aren't at the cutting edge of technology; mine's clearly invented the Flux Capacitor !

After speaking with Charlie, she agreed to withdraw some cash for me, and I'd go deposit that at the bank (in a total backflip from all of their other policies, banks are actually open on Saturday mornings – I assume they're trying to weasel their way out of this, and it's just the paperwork and internal processes holding them up). So I trundle down there, get to the teller, and ask *specifically* – “If I deposit this cash now (11am), when will it be available in my account ?”. The answer – “As it's cash only, it'll be real-time banking, so 2 hours' time, maximum.”. OK, am happy with that answer. So I set off on my merry way for the rest of the day showing Craig, Kate and Rob around the Camden Markets (with the aid of the elusive Puzzler), and generally having a satisfactory and fun time. Upon returning home and checking my balance at about 6pm however I suppose I wasn't that surprised to see that the funds hadn't cleared.

Nor on the following day. Pretty strange idea of the definition of “2 hours”, it seemed. So I made a quick call to the absolutely inappropriately named “Customer Service Centre”. If *ever* there was a potential lawsuit for false advertising, that's it. Although I don't suppose “Customer Disservice & Hinderance Centre” would fit on one line of the brochure… perhaps if they made the DAMN WRITING SMALLER, LIKE THEY DO IN THEIR TERMS & CONDITIONS VOLUMES! (Getting ahead of myself here, sorry).

The outwardly happy and helpful staff member I spoke to advised me that those funds should be ready, and they'd definitely be in my account on Monday morning, and that as long as I had transferred enough money to cover the direct debit and the fee then I shouldn't incur another bounce fee, however if it was still there on Tuesday to ring the bank and they'd sort it out. She further iterated that she thought it strange that a cash deposit I'd made hadn't shown up as cleared funds. I wish I'd paid more close attention to that phone call, because I'm sure if I'd listened hard enough I could have heard the wailing of other tortured employees in the background, begging to be freed from their tortured and tawdry existences. Actually probably not – that would imply that there was more than one person working in the call centre, which judging by the length of time I spent in their phone queue was cleaerly not the case.

Monday I check my balance, optimistically as it turned out. Still no cash ! I'll cut out the rest of Monday, as frankly nothing useful happened.

Tuesday, my money appeared. As did the original transfer Charlie had made, and my paycheque, so no shortage of fundage at this point. I immediately transferred the money across to that account, and set about ringing the bank again as the phone-jockey had suggested. I was greeted with an altogether different type of response – someone who had no idea what I was trying to communicate, and didn't seem that interested in resolving it. She did however offer to put me through to the lending department, as that charge is imposed by them. On the balance of things this seemed a good idea. Oh how wrong I was.

Now I may be overreacting or over analysing (or just talking plain bollocks), but judging by the person I spoke to next and on previous discussions with this bank's lending department, I get the distinct impression that Lending Department is in fact a synonym for “The Last Line of Defence”. The real hardasses that deal with all of the phonecalls which the bank staff deem require a 'no' answer and they themselves can't figure a logical path to that answer. Lending Department are the Green Berets. I explained to the guy what had happened, taking extreme care to explain that I had been told specific things by representatives of his bank and given various assurances which had led me to believe that I had grounds for complaint/resolution.

Again, I get the impression that the kind of people who work in my bank's lending department are the sort of people who, as adolescents, enjoy pulling the legs off spiders and then burning the twitching body with the sun focused through a magnifying glass, or putting cats in washing machines with scorpions, or tasks of that ilk.

In answer to the 2 hour cash appearance question, he patiently explained that as it was not a business day, the funds wouldn't actually show as being presented into my account until Monday morning, and the 2 hours would begin as of that time. I asked him if that were the case then how was the woman I spoke to on Sunday able to see that I'd deposited the cash on Saturday… but he just calmly restated that because it was not a business day, the transaction wouldn't fire til Monday. I asked then why the cash had taken until Tuesday morning to show up, and he calmly repeated – “Sir, Saturday is not a BUSINESS DAY. The transactions take place only on BUSINESS DAYS.”, and when I said yes, so if Monday's a business day, and my cash shows as deposited on the Monday, then why was it not cleared until the Tuesday ? “Sir, I don't think you understand what I'm saying – Saturday is not a business day. The next business day after Friday is Monday”.

Whatever. Move on to the direct debit fee. How can I be charged a bounce fee on a Saturday for a debit which is supposed to take place on the Monday ?

“If you read the Terms & Conditions of your account sir, funds to satisfy a direct debit have to be cleared in your account at close of business the day before the debit is applied to your account”. (I'm assuming close of business is about 11:03am, assuming that business commences at 11:01am) So therefore even if I had seen cleared funds in my account on the Saturday and transferred them across to the right account before the Monday (bearing in mind that electronic transfer between one's own accounts is instant), it still would have bounced ? “That's right sir”. So in effect, the debit doesn't really come out on the Monday at all, does it ? “Sir, it's all clearly laid out in the Terms & Conditions of your account…”. I pointed out that NOTHING is in fact laid out clearly in the Terms & Conditions – perhaps to a studious and gifted squirrel the writing may seem large and friendly, however to my human eyes it's the sort of thing that requires an electron microscope, 3 Latin scholars, and about 9 hours of your time to comprehend.

Clutching at straws now – I was told directly by 2 members of your organisation that the cash I deposited on the Saturday would be available to my account within 2 hours, and by one that this direct debit fee would not stand. “Sir, it's all clearly laid out in the Terms & Conditions…”. I'm not interested in that – I've been given advice by 2 members of your staff, and correct or not I would expect them to honour that advice. “You can take it up with your branch, however as it says in the Terms & Conditions…”. That's fine – thankyou VERY much for all your help.

At this point they win, because they know my weak and frail human body can't withstand another 80 minute phone queue and subsequent violent hammering in the intellectual vacuum. And there's no point in writing a letter, because that'll just get farmed off to their trained octopus in charge of dishing out form letters to answer.

So yes, there was a painless way to lose 70 pounds. My monthly accountkeeping fee is 8 pounds, and it looks like I've scored a 10 pound charge on my other account for some reason too, which means that over the course of 6 days my bank has relieved me of 88 squid.

Needless to say, I've applied for accounts with 2 other banks now.

2005-08-02 : Oh the giddy heights of customer satisfaction !
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