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Can your bank answer basic tax questions?


You’d think calling your bank to talk about your savings would prove fruitful, but Britain’s biggest banks showed a woeful lack of up to date knowledge about tax on savings in our investigation.

Where do you turn if you want to get more information about your savings account? Perhaps you like to search online, or look to newspapers or magazines such as Which? Money. Maybe you’ll ask friends or family for help.

I suspect, however, that you’d get on the phone to your savings provider if you have a query about your account. They’re the guardians of your cash, after all, and surely they can explain every facet of the products they offer in a single call. Or can they?

We regularly put bank and building society telephone staff knowledge to the test, asking basic questions about savings accounts to see how well employees really know the products they sell. And every time we do this, we find staff giving out incorrect and misleading advice and, in some cases, showing a complete lack of understanding about how this simple market works.

Banks fail tax knowledge test

This month, for example, we mystery shopped 12 of the biggest savings account providers by calling each of them 12 times over two months and asking a number of questions about tax on savings. Our investigation found that one in 10 call handlers didn’t know that tax was automatically deducted from a savings account, while almost half didn’t know how much was taken from interest paid.

In April, 85% of staff couldn’t tell us the correct Isa limit for 2015. Last May, we found widespread confusion about compensation limits. Take a look in our archives, and the list goes on and on.

You can’t always trust your bank

Something is going seriously wrong in the call centres of Britain’s biggest banks and building societies. We regularly hear staff repeating information from manuals that are out of date, that they can’t find the right information on their systems or that they simply haven’t been told about a change. This is unacceptable.

A customer of any business should be able to rely on getting their queries resolved by giving them a call. And yet, our mounting body of evidence shows you can’t always trust what your bank tells you over the phone – something I find both depressing and disturbing.

Have you called up your bank to ask a question, only to be greeted by a muddled or incorrect answer?


You ask : “Have you called up your bank to ask a question, only to be greeted by a muddled or incorrect answer?” Which? researchers who make the mystery shopping calls might spot a wrong answer when they hear one but how is the average customer who is genuinely seeking important information [and presumably wouldn’t be asking if they already knew the answer] supposed to judge whether or not they are getting the facts and the truth? This is the scandal and it is on a par with miss-selling.

Now that Which? has all this evidence of incompetence, and – as you say – it is unacceptable, what is Which? going to do with it? Sounds like a case for the Financial Conduct Authority to me. Makes you wonder why they haven’t discovered this and dealt with it already . . . No, not really.

Hi John, I hear you. Just thought I’d let you know that we consistently share the findings of our research with both the companies we investigate and with regulatory bodies, and use them as a platform to drive forward changes.

That’s good Patrick. Perhaps you would be able to repeat the mystery shopping calls in six months time to see if there is any improvement.