New banking measures proposed for Northern Ireland
The Competition Commission has published a list of proposed measures that it hopes will help bank customers in Northern Ireland understand more clearly the rights they have in relation to charges applied to their current accounts. The new measures come after criticism from the Commission in October, when it said that the banks were confusing their customers. The Commission said that it hoped the measures would enable bank customers to make more informed decisions because they will understand the costs related to their accounts. The Commission hopes that the new measures will also address the reluctance of many consumers to switch banks.
Among the proposals are a requirement that the banks provide easy-to-understand descriptions of the current account services they offer; that they give clear explanations of charges and interest rates, including when those will be applicable to their accounts; that they include better, clearer information on statements; that they give each customer an annual summary of charges and interest applied to their accounts, as well as a yearly reminder of the customer’s right to close accounts or switch banks; that banks give two-weeks notice of charges before they are deducted from accounts; and that banks offer charge-free, interest-free overdraft.
The proposed measures were developed following an inquiry into complaints about banks in Northern Ireland from the Northern Ireland Consumer Council and consumer group Which. The complaints included that Northern Ireland banks were assessing charges that other UK banks do not and that the charges by banks were “too similar”. The inquiry found in October that bank customers in Northern Ireland were paying more for banking than other UK customers but were earning less interest on savings, as well as that the system of charges was too complex and not made clear enough.