National Savings & Investments has been hit by a customer service slump, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. We have been bombarded with emails and letters from customers who are at their wit’s end after torturous relationships with NS&I call centers.
Many staff are working from home as they face a huge backlog of cases – and last night the savings organization admitted it would need to recruit more staff to cope.
The complaints sent to the MoS reveal that the savers are:
Stranded: Monica and Frank Bishop waited months to transfer their Isas
- Face delays of several weeks in withdrawing money from their accounts or recharging their assets;
- Regularly wait up to an hour on the phone to contact the call center staff;
- Have payments mistakenly processed up to three times – then wait days to get refunded;
- Left in the dark on the bungles that make their bank account overdrawn;
- Fobed when they try to access money in a deceased relative’s account – even if it had been set aside to pay for funeral expenses.
The customer service nightmare comes after state-owned NS&I, which offers Treasury-backed secure savings and has more than 25 million customers, last week slashed rates for its most popular accounts to as low as 0.01%.
The cuts will hit the eggs of millions of savers who have turned to NS&I for premium bonds, Isas and easy-to-access accounts for better returns. Many of its deals had peaked on the best buying tables after banks and building societies cut rates to the bone.
Holders of NS&I Income Bonds are the hardest hit, with rates plunging from a current rate of 1.15% to a pitiful 0.01%, while the prices of premium bonds will fall by more than a million to just over 2.85 million per month as of December.
NS&I’s service problems could worsen if the announcement of last week’s rate cut results in a deluge of savers looking to withdraw their funds.
Its customer service department has come under intense pressure, taking £ 14.5 billion in deposits between April and June alone from income-starved savers. Customers paid almost double the £ 8 billion deposited in the same months in 2019.
On its website, NS&I is warning savers that they may have to wait if they call its customer service team. A box appears saying, “We are 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 told they can’t even choose to wait to speak to an operator. A recorded message tells callers to connect or call back later, before the call is disconnected.
Derrick Neilson hopes he will never have to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ringing from his phone again. The 72-year-old from South Yorkshire has spent hours on hold at NS&I while waiting to speak to customer services about his account.
“I have to listen to their music for up to 50 minutes at a time – as well as their recorded messages about delays due to Covid,” he says. Derrick and his wife Vickie found themselves overdrawn on their checking account for the first time in their 45-year marriage after a deal with NS&I went sour.
“We tried to pour £ 3,200 into a direct online saver in August,” Derrick explains. ‘During the transaction, the system timed out, so we pressed’ Enter ‘again. The next day we found out that we had been billed twice, draining our checking account.
The Neilsons did not receive any notification from NS&I that the transactions had been made twice and only found out when they logged into their online banking.
“We had to phone the bank to increase our overdraft – we found it pretty shameful,” says Derrick. “It took over two weeks to get a refund, but NS&I told us they were still working on the complaints from two months ago. “
Robert Huntley, 60, of Bristol, has been trying for months to add additional funds to his premium bonds.
“Every time I try to buy premium bonds my debit card gets declined,” he says. “My own bank has investigated for me and confirms that it approves the transaction. I think the problem must be in NS&I, but it doesn’t answer my questions. I have phoned him several times, but I give up after 40 minutes when my call is not answered.
Frank and Monica Bishop have been trying to quit their NS&I Isas for months, fed up with low rates. “Every time I try to contact NS&I I’m on the phone for over an hour,” says Frank, 86, of Leatherhead. Once I waited two hours before receiving an answer. Then the call was dropped after two minutes. It’s maddening.
The couple want to switch to an Isa share and fear missing out on investment opportunities.
In the most heartbreaking cases, people who are recently bereaved face difficulties when learning about their loved one’s NS&I assets.
Helen Driver, whose husband Geoff died suddenly in mid-July, spent hours on hold with the NS&I customer service team – when she only wanted to know the account balance of her deceased husband so that she can tie up her affairs.
Anger: Customers hit by bungles then face long waits on the phone to complain
“It is without a doubt the worst financial institution I have dealt with in an extremely stressful and painful time,” says Helen. “The website says don’t ring unless it’s urgent, and don’t write to them either – how am I supposed to contact them otherwise?”
“I went to the online chat and was told that due to Covid I should ‘just wait’. I suggested I could log into my husband’s account as I knew his account details, but they said I would be cheating. Helen’s complaint about the delays was dismissed because NS&I said it was “due to the current Covid-19 pandemic”.
“I understand that things are tough for businesses, but if other financial institutions can handle their work productively during the pandemic, why can’t NS&I? Halifax has been wonderful – sorting out in a week. The construction companies of Nottingham and Skipton also.
Meanwhile, Helen received distressing emails and letters to her husband asking what he would like to do with his maturing account.
NS&I says she had not received Helen’s death request form until the standard deadline letter was sent.
A spokesperson for NS&I said: “This enabled her to receive maturity documents on behalf of her late husband. We appreciate that in a time of mourning this has caused Ms. Driver further distress and we apologize for the upheaval caused.
Hazel Boardley says she now knows how to make sure her landline cordless phone is fully charged before calling NS&I. After her mother died in April, the 67-year-old Felixstowe woman attempted to cash her mother’s premium and investment bonds and put them into her father’s account.
She thought it would be a straightforward process, but after providing the necessary forms and documents, Hazel was told she would need the probate first. “I think it’s completely unnecessary and just makes the heartache I’m facing worse,” says Hazel. In the meantime, Hazel’s father has also passed away.
“I lost both of my parents within 12 weeks of each other,” says Hazel. “I really don’t see how they should be allowed to continue this way.
Hazel filed a formal complaint on June 9, but was told on July 1 that NS&I had yet to begin its investigation. Again, Covid has been blamed, with NS&I saying it will send a final response no later than 35 business 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 spokesperson for NS&I said: “We are sorry that some of our customers are experiencing delays when trying to contact us and we are taking longer than usual to respond to some of their inquiries. We are seeing very high demand and high appeal levels. We continue to recruit more staff to help our clients and we are doing everything possible to help clients manage their savings with NS&I.
“We encourage our clients to use NS&I’s website – www.nsandi.com – to manage their savings where possible. For those customers who need it most, our call center team is available from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily, but customers will have to wait longer than usual to get through.
MY 35 PRIZES WORTH £ 875 HAVE BEEN BLOCKED
Janine Powley suddenly realized in July that she hadn’t received a premium bond bonus for some time.
Janine, 90, from East Sussex, whose name we changed to protect her identity, was taken aback as she has the maximum £ 50,000 in premium bonds and tends to win a small prize most months.
Concern: National Savings and Investment Letters from Janine Powley
After contacting NS&I, she received 35 awards at a time – each posted in a separate envelope. The checks totaled £ 875. NS&I claims the letters were returned undelivered, so they put a block on her account as a “security measure” until Janine made contact and she was removed.
He sent her a goodwill payment of £ 25 for the inconvenience caused.
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