United Kingdom

How NS&I failed to give older savers a voice over Premium Bond cheques

NS&I ignored savers without the internet before making the decision to axe Premium Bond cheques in the post, insider reports reveal.

The savings giant has been accused of abandoning older customers in its drive to axe prize warrants to save money and paper. 

Now Money Mail has discovered that the bank only consulted customers with an email address about the change - snubbing millions of older savers.

Charities and critics accused NS&I of forcing older customers online in its drive to save more than £4m a year - and called for the decision to be reversed

National Savings and Investments (NS&I) has been under fire since it announced the move in September last year and told savers to get in touch to provide their bank details.

It came in the middle of a customer service meltdown at the Government-backed bank, and worried savers had to wait on hold for an average of 20 minutes to speak to anyone.

Charities and critics accused NS&I of forcing older customers online in its drive to save more than £4 million a year - and called for the decision to be reversed.

Money Mail, using the Freedom of Information Act, unearthed the reports that NS&I bosses used to make the decision. 

Among them is an online survey that excluded the customers who were, arguably, most likely to object.

In a report to NS&I's retail committee, researchers presented results from a survey sent to customers with an email address registered with the bank. But they warned the poll was 'unlikely to be reflective' of the views of savers without an email address registered with NS&I.

The survey in 2015 still found as many as one in four savers would not be happy with being forced to receive all paperwork electronically. It also found that one in three would rather receive documents in the post than online.

Yet NS&I forged ahead and has refused to allow customers to receive prize cheques in the post. 

I missed £450 in online prizes

Mark Courtney had no idea he won hundreds of pounds in Premium Bond prizes

A Premium Bond saver missed 17 prizes worth £450 after NS&I bungled his bank payments.

Mark Courtney, 51, has held Premium Bonds for more than 20 years but opted to have prizes paid directly into his account four years ago.

But, in June 2019, he hadn't won a single prize since switching. When he logged on to his NS&I account it showed he had won 11 prizes — worth £300 in total. 

None of them had been paid into his account and he had received no emails to say he had won. Mark, from Daventry, Northamptonshire, then did not receive any prize notifications for another 18 months. 

Yet when he logged into his account in December, he found that another six - worth £150 - had not been paid.

Mark says: 'It's irresponsible of NS&I to force people to receive prizes this way.'

NS&I says the payments had been blocked because of extra security checks when he couldn't be reached by phone. 

A spokesman says: 'It is not common for customers to experience problems with receiving Premium Bond prizes.'

More than 820,000 savers in their 80s and 90s have around £14.2 billion invested with NS&I. And fewer than half of over-75s are internet users, the figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, says: 'We know that a substantial proportion of the older population are not computer-savvy, so the fact that this large group of NS&I customers has been overlooked means its survey is fatally flawed.

'It wouldn't be the first organisation to make this mistake — but having committed it, the firm has responsibility to face up to it, pause its proposed move to online-only claiming, and seek a much more representative range of customer views.'

NS&I has, so far, only postponed the move until the spring when it can better handle calls.

Chief executive Ian Ackerley last week admitted making the announcement in the customer service crisis had not been wise but refused to back down.

NS&I is now only allowing the most vulnerable customers to keep receiving prize cheques in the post. So far, just two have been allowed to keep them.

It has said that simply 'not liking it' is not a good enough reason.

Premium Bonds are the nation's most popular savings product. They give more than 20 million savers entry into a prize draw every month rather than paying out interest.

Money is paid out at an equivalent to interest of 1 per cent and prizes range from between £25 and £1 million. The prize warrants have been sent out in the post for more than 50 years.

Last year, five million savers chose to get their prizes delivered. After axing the cheques, NS&I told savers they could either have prize money reinvested automatically or register online and provide details of a bank account where prize money could be paid.

But savers soon found out that they could not register to have prize notifications unless they had an email address or mobile phone.

An NS&I spokesman says, last month, more than 21,000 savers had told the bank they did not have a mobile phone or email address and will receive prize notification by post.

He adds: 'NS&I has a robust exceptions policy, ensuring we are able to meet the needs of vulnerable and digitally-excluded customers.

'While we appreciate that some older customers will be less confident online, when we resume the planned change to prize payments, our call centre staff will be available to support customers who may not have access to a mobile phone or email address, or need support with online services should they choose to use them.'

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