Barclays - the Ryanair of banking

My son ran up an unauthorised overdraft a couple of years ago - or, rather, he inadvertently exceeded his agreed overdraft limit by £200.

The bank slammed some usurious penalty charges on his account and the sum he owed soon multiplied to a figure that he couldn't possibly afford to repay. He tried to talk to the bank about repaying the original overdraft, plus appropriate interest, but it ignored him.

How to clear your overdraft for good

So instead he waited for the High Court ruling on whether banks should be allowed to charge whatever they like on unauthorised borrowing, hoping it would solve his problems. But it went against him - and many other thousands in the same boat. Meanwhile, the sum had escalated wildly into a four-figure debt.

His bank is our old friend Barclays, which is fast becoming the Ryanair of British banking when it comes to customer service - although I gather all the banks are at it.

No co-operation

Now, I accept that customers, like my son, who run up debts have only themselves to blame - it's all in the small print, blah, blah, blah. But my point is that he wanted to repay the original sum and tried to do so. The bank could have had its money back, if it had co-operated.

Instead, it has invented a ludicrous debt that it has no hope of seeing repaid. 

More extraordinarily, Barclays sold the debt on to a credit agency some time ago. What is Kafka-esque in its absurdity here is that, in doing so, the bank has made an entirely notional sum of money into a real one. This debt never existed, other than in the fevered imagination of some clerks in the Bank of Lilliput.

By capitalising it and selling it on, this invented money has become commoditised. And there must be loads of it out there. I fully expect some wünderkind of the financial markets to securitise all this bogus debt and flog it to a US bank to fuel the next sub-prime housing boom.

Anyway, this means for us that a series of entertaining credit agents periodically phone up. The names of the agencies change weekly, as the debt is passed around the market, like the plate of cocktail sausages that no one wants at a party.

One spiv told my son that he'd knock 25% off the debt if he paid it off by credit card over the phone immediately. Unsurprisingly, he resisted this temptation, as there would have been no record of the agreement.

Financial charlatans

I fear that there may be some borrowers who do deal with these charlatans of the financial world. After all, they threaten that they're about to come round to your house and impound everything from your clothes to your pets in order to settle the debt.

This is nonsense. The Citizens Advice Bureau advises that under no circumstances should anyone ever respond to a telephone approach from a credit agent. That seems like sound advice.

But there are other factors at play too. These debt collectors phone and, first of all, ask you to identify who you are and where you live. Excuse me, do they really think we're that dumb? No one has the right to phone and demand information about you.

These giants of credit control, however, are evidently a few beads short of a full abacus. One phoned the other day. Apparently, they couldn't speak to me unless I identified myself. Fine by me.

A firm called RMA Partners, for example, told me I had to provide personal information for security purposes. I had to prove that I was who I said I was. I asked him to identify himself and to prove he was from the company he said he was, otherwise I couldn't deal with him "for security reasons".

There was silence at the other end. It was like a fuse had blown in his head. I wished him well and gently hung up.

But the problem is that the high street banks allow these agents to operate under the banks' brand names. I have had people on the line claiming that they are from Barclays. They are rude, aggressive and unprofessional.

Credit is really the issue. Does a bank like Barclays really think that these ethic-free operations do its brand and reputation any credit? But, then again, perhaps brand values and reputation have long since ceased to be a valid currency for our banks.

Reverend George Pitcher is a former industrial editor of the Observer. He is the Archbishop of Canterbury's secretary for public affairs and curate at St Bride's, Fleet Street.

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I am also a victim of Barclays bank - I tried at least a half dozen times to update by home address by telephone but was told I could not do this. They phoned me about an overdraft but as I had moved home, they had my previous address. I gave my birthdate, password to the caller and was told that I had breached DPA and they could not continue the call - That I should call them back - I then asked what reference I should use, and was told they could not give me that information. I said without the reference, I would not know who I should speak to. They ended the call. I then received a further phonecall again from Barclays, but unfortunately it happen to be the day after my father passed away. I explained my situation, asked the lady if she could call me back in 48hours to resolve the problem. They never called back. This was in April 2011, Now since mid June I have been harrassed by a Debt Management Agency saying the debt was sold on to them - I have refused to give my new address, because Barclays did not call me back - I told them that I would take issue with Barclays - I called Barclays Customer Service - explained what had happened and was told that I COULD update my address over the phone. I also questioned them why a debit order that had been in place for at least 6 months to pay off the o/draft was stopped and I was told it could only stand for 6 months - this is news to me - thought debit orders were just that. I updated my address with Barclays but was told that I should deal with the Debt Management Company to settle the overdraft. I said that I was not prepared to do this as the fault lay with Barclays for stopping a debit order without permission or reason, and why was I not contacted by telephone to discuss this, afterall they had my mobile number - that's how they contacted me.
I am really annoyed about the whole situation. Barclays are terrible at public relations and do not give a damn about the lowly customer. Well the buck stops here.

I had a complaint as well about Barclays and their handling of payments made into an account but the wrong account - but still paid they could not transfer over so got a default slapped on my credit file, noting they could do they said - so unhelpful, went to the financial ombudsman who wrote to them and eventiallyBarclays took it off my credit file, in the meantime my credit rating dropped like rain from the sky. If anyone has any problems like this the Financial Ombudsman to help. I had issue with John Lewis credit card recently cut long story short they just slapped a defult for paying bill 2 days late, they told me nothing I could do default on my credit file for 6 years - SIX YEARS....... got the ombudsman involved again and guess what John Lewis removing from my credit file, no apologies and I had to listen to the lecture about maintaining my card properly etc etc they took the moral high ground, 2 days late - these people just dont care - there is no customer service at all you are guilty and have to prove your innocence, so please any one reading this go the the ombudsman - its free and they can help you clear your credit files etc - oh and they are worth checking as well, 6 years is a long time to have bad credit mark, but it can be sorted and you are not necessarily to blame. As for Barclays they sorted out THEIR MESS but we went through hell and back to prove our innocence, the best place for your money is in a safe in your house and no credit - unfortunately life cannot work like that.

In response to the person above having problems to update their address and the issue escalating to debt collectors.
I used to work for a debt collector on behalf of Barclaycard and may be able to shed some light on certain problems.
Firstly, direct debits, especially with Barclays may be cancelled if the amount to be collected is not available on the account. Barclays then used to freeze the credit card and one had to set up the direct debit again. This was in about 80% of the cases I dealt with the only reason the credit card was in arrears.
Secondly, I have to admit of having the same problem with them about changing my address. They were unable to do it, so I had to close the account.
Thirdly, DPA can be a very "flexible" term, depending on the person you speak to. There are guidelines and minimum requirements, but some people care less than others about checking the ID of a caller. Some people on the team were clearly in for the money, as we were paid for each collection.
To cut it short, I now bank with another big highstreet name and have changed jobs years ago.

I has these Barclays mongrels trying to get me to open a account with them the other day. I told them that I was quite happy with my current bank and if I decided to change, Barclays would be one of the last that I would consider!

Although I had 2 other accounts with Barclays as I did not use the joint account that I had for some time they closed it and put the money into their own coffers without any attempt at contacting me. When I discovered this and contacted them they said that they could not have contacted me as they could not be sure that I still lived at the last address they held (although they were still corresponding with me there for two other accounts!). They refused to accept that they had done anything wrong and it was a lot of hassle getting that money back from them. Needless to say I no longer have those two other accounts there, they have moved elsewhere.