National Savings & Investments has been hit by a customer service meltdown, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. We have been bombarded with emails and letters from customers who are at their wits’ end after tortuous dealings with NS&I call centres.
Many staff are understood to be working from home as they deal with a huge backlog of cases – and last night the savings organisation admitted it would have to bring in more employees to cope.
Complaints sent to the MoS reveal that savers are:
Stranded: Monica and Frank Bishop have waited months to transfer their Isas
- Facing delays lasting weeks to withdraw cash from their accounts or top up their holdings;
- Routinely waiting as long as an hour on the phone to get through to call centre staff;
- Having payments mistakenly processed up to three times – and then waiting days to be refunded;
- Left in the dark about bungles that cause their bank account to go overdrawn;
- Fobbed off when they try to access money in a deceased relative’s account – even if it had been set aside to pay funeral costs.
The customer service nightmare comes after state-owned NS&I, which offers secure savings backed by the Treasury and has more than 25million customers, last week slashed the rates on its most popular accounts to as little as 0.01 per cent.
The cuts will hit the nest eggs of millions of savers who turned to NS&I for Premium Bonds, Isas and easy access accounts for a better return. Many of its deals had risen to the top of best buy tables after banks and building societies cut their rates to the bone.
NS&I Income Bond holders face the biggest hit, with rates plunging from a current rate of 1.15 per cent to a pitiful 0.01 per cent, while Premium Bond prizes will drop by more than one million to just over 2.85 million a month from December.
NS&I’s service woes could worsen if last week’s rate cut announcement leads to a deluge of savers seeking to withdraw their funds.
Its customer service department has come under intense pressure taking in £14.5billion of deposits between April and June alone from income-starved savers. Customers paid in almost double the £8billion deposited over the same months in 2019.
On its website, NS&I warns savers they may face a wait if they call its customer service team. A box pops up saying: ‘We’re working with much smaller teams at the moment…Don’t call us unless you absolutely have to. You may have a long wait.’
But when they call, some customers are being told they cannot even choose to wait to speak to an operator. A recorded message tells callers to go online or call back later, before the call is disconnected.
Derrick Neilson hopes he never has to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony blaring from his telephone again. The 72-year-old from South Yorkshire has spent hours on hold to NS&I waiting to speak to customer services about his account.
‘I have to listen to their music for up to 50 minutes at a time – along with their recorded messages about delays due to Covid,’ he says. Derrick and his wife Vickie were left overdrawn on their current account for the first time in their 45-year marriage after a transaction with NS&I went wrong.
‘We tried to pay £3,200 into a Direct Saver online in August,’ says Derrick. ‘During the transaction, the system timed out, so we pressed ‘enter’ again. The next day we found out we had been charged twice, emptying our current account.’
The Neilsons received no notification from NS&I that the transactions had gone through twice and found out only when they logged on to their online banking.
‘We had to phone the bank to increase our overdraft – we found it quite shameful,’ says Derrick. ‘It took over two weeks to get a refund, but we were told by NS&I they were still working on complaints from two months ago.’
Robert Huntley, 60, from Bristol, has been trying for months to add extra funds to his Premium Bonds.
‘Every time I try to buy Premium Bonds my debit card is declined,’ he says. ‘My own bank has investigated for me and confirms it approves the transaction. I think the issue must lie with NS&I, but it does not respond to my queries. I’ve phoned it several times, but give up after 40 minutes when my call is not answered.’
Frank and Monica Bishop have been trying to transfer out of their NS&I Isas for months, having got fed up with low rates. ‘Every time I try to get hold of NS&I, I am on the phone for well over an hour,’ says Frank, 86, from Leatherhead. One time, I was waiting for two hours before I got a response. Then the call was cut off after two minutes. It’s infuriating.’
The couple want to move to a shares Isa and fear they will miss out on investment opportunities.
In the most heartrending cases, people who are recently bereaved are being given the run-around when they enquire about their loved one’s NS&I holdings.
Helen Driver, whose husband Geoff passed away suddenly in the middle of July, spent hours on hold to the NS&I customer service team – when all she wanted to know was the balance on her late husband’s account so she could tie up his affairs.
Anger: Customers hit by bungles then face long waits on the phone to complain
‘This is undoubtedly the worst financial institution I have dealt with in what is an extremely stressful and distressing time’, says Helen. ‘The website says don’t ring unless it’s urgent, and don’t write to them either – how else am I supposed to contact them?
‘I went on the online chat and was told that due to Covid I would ‘just have to wait’. I suggested I could log on to my husband’s account as I knew his account details, but they said I would be committing fraud.’ Helen’s complaint about the delays was rejected because NS&I said it was ‘due to the current Covid-19 pandemic’.
‘I understand that things are difficult for companies, but if other financial institutions can manage working productively during the pandemic, why can’t NS&I? Halifax has been marvellous – sorting within a week. Nottingham and Skipton building societies as well.’
Meanwhile, Helen has received distressing emails and letters sent to her husband asking what he would like to do with his maturing account.
NS&I says it had not received Helen’s death claim form before the standard maturity letter was sent.
A spokesman for NS&I says: ‘This resulted in her receiving maturity documents in her late husband’s name. We appreciate that, at a time of grief, this caused Mrs Driver further distress and we apologise for the upset caused.’
Hazel Boardley says she now knows to make sure her cordless landline phone is fully charged before phoning NS&I. After her mother died in April, the 67-year-old from Felixstowe tried to cash her mother’s Premium and Investment Bonds and put them into her father’s account.
She thought it would be a simple process, but after providing the necessary forms and documents, Hazel was told she would need grant of probate first. ‘I feel it is completely unnecessary and has just compounded the grief that I am dealing with,’ Hazel says. In the interim, Hazel’s father also passed away.
‘I have lost both my parents within 12 weeks of each other,’ says Hazel. ‘I really don’t see how they should be allowed to carry on in this way.’
Hazel made a formal complaint on June 9, but was told on July 1 that NS&I had not yet started its investigation. Again, Covid was blamed, with NS&I stating that it would send a final response no later than 35 working days from the date it received the complaint.
NS&I says it has now conducted a full investigation and provided a written response with its findings.
A spokesman for NS&I says: ‘We are sorry some of our customers are experiencing delays when trying to contact us and that it is taking us longer than usual to respond to some of their requests. We are seeing very high demand and high call levels. We are continuing to bring in more staff to help our customers and we are doing all we can to help customers manage their savings with NS&I.
‘We encourage customers to use the NS&I website – www.nsandi.com – to manage their savings wherever possible. For customers who are most in need, our call centre team is available from 7am to 10pm every day, but customers will experience a longer wait than usual to get through.’
MY 35 PRIZES WORTH £875 WERE BLOCKED
Janine Powley suddenly realised in July that she had not received a Premium Bond prize for some time.
Janine, 90, from East Sussex, whose name we have changed to protect her identity, was surprised because she has the maximum £50,000 in Premium Bonds and tends to win a small prize most months.
Concern: Janine Powley’s National Savings & Investments letters
After contacting NS&I, she received 35 prizes at once – each one posted in a separate envelope. The cheques totalled £875. NS&I claims the letters had been returned undelivered so they put a block on her account as a ‘security measure’ until Janine got in touch and it was removed.
It sent her a £25 goodwill payment for the inconvenience caused.
THIS IS MONEY’S FIVE OF THE BEST SAVINGS DEALS