United Kingdom

VICTORIA BISCHOFF: NS&I is alienating older and more vulnerable savers

News that NS&I has delayed plans to axe Premium Bond prize cheques will come as an enormous relief to millions of savers.

But top boss Ian Ackerley needs to go further and scrap the penny-pinching plan altogether.

The former Barclays director is wildly out of touch with his most loyal customers.

Only 76 per cent of NS&I prizes are currently paid into customers' bank accounts or reinvested in more bonds with a million cheques still being sent each month

To help him find his way back, we will be sending him hundreds of your handwritten letters this week - and I would urge him, as I have, to read every single one.

The vast majority are from savers in their 70s, 80s and 90s who are not online and do not own a smartphone.

Many say the change is just one more thing to worry about at a time when life is already so hard.

Yet when they try to call NS&I for help, they are left waiting on hold for hours, cut off or baffled by confusing instructions.Is it any wonder so many customers say they feel forgotten?

According to Hansard records, the Government was asked last month if there was a consultation before NS&I's announcement.

Minister of state for HM Treasury, Lord Agnew of Oulton, claimed the decision had been informed by 'customer research and changing customer behaviours'.

Yet he admitted that only 76 per cent of prizes were currently paid into customers' bank accounts or reinvested in more bonds.

This means one in four are not - with a million cheques still being sent each month.

When the banking industry tried to scrap cheques, about ten years ago, it was forced to U-turn following a flood of criticism from MPs, charities and consumer groups.

Yet now the Treasury's own bank is attempting to push the payment method out the back door.

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This sets a worrying precedent. If NS&I axes cheques, what's to stop other banks and building societies from following suit?

We've seen how quickly they close branches and ATMs to cut costs.

Just last year Barclays attempted to ban customers withdrawing cash at the Post Office, denying them crucial access to money.

It was only after a campaign by this newspaper that the bank was shamed into backing down.

And yet, here we go again. Another ill-thought-out proposal that alienates the nation's older and more vulnerable customers.

I strongly urge the Treasury - and NS&I - to think again. Your most loyal savers deserve better.

Choose charity

'Tis the season for giving — and this Christmas charities need our help more than ever.

Two thirds have reported a drop in donations, despite a surge in demand for their services.

Aware of how fortunate we are to end this year with a job and a roof over our heads, myself and a small group of friends have pledged to gift the money we would have spent on presents for each other to a charity close to our hearts.

I've chosen Crisis. At this time of year the homeless charity would usually recruit 12,000 volunteers to help run 13 centres where around 4,000 guests can get hot meals, medical care and enjoy a few festive games. But the centres can't open because of Covid.

Instead, the charity is housing people in hotels, organising food deliveries and providing support online and by telephone.

For £28.22 you can give someone a Crisis Christmas on a loved one's behalf — and with gift aid your donation is worth £35.27.

The Big Give Christmas Challenge is also running this week, which promises to match donations to 765 participating charities (thebiggive.org.uk).

If you're supporting a charity this Christmas or have swapped gifts for giving, I'd love to hear from you.

Write to me at [email protected] and I'll print the best letters.

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