For the first time in over two months I have been at home for more than a couple of days in a row, and it seems to be business as usual at Victoria Street. By which I mean, excrement spewing from the toilet (I returned from Edinburgh to discover that in my absence we had acquired Â£600 worth of bathroom damage) and Ambassador Swindle Monkeys, as Alastair succinctly puts it, screwing us with our pants on.
In fact I’ve seen an awful lot of people screwed with their pants on recently; a cast member of Tony Blair – the Musical was screwed with his pants on by the Great North Eastern Railway in front of my very eyes, and the Vicar of Trumpington, a long-term acquaintance of mine and thoroughly nice chap, was screwed with his pants on not only by four families in his Parish but by Cambridge Evening News, who reported certain spurious allegations as if they were fact. All this has led to me wasting whole days writing angry letters which have achieved precisely bugger all, except for me getting a letter back from GNER which none-too-subtly hinted that both the friend they had screwed with his pants on and myself were habitual liars – so in a sense taking the opportunity to give me a lazy screwing through my own underwear.
So when Natwest tried to screw me with my pants on only yesterday, they chose the wrong person to pick on. Because I am pretty jolly fed up of all this screwing and was pretty damn determined not to let them penetrate my pants without putting up a pretty jolly damn good fight.
Because, yes, I have received a bank charge. I won’t bother you with the details, except to say that nobody except Ricky Gervais comes back from Edinburgh loaded with money, and a late payment of expenses for another job caused my outgoing rent to take my bank account over its allotted overdraft limit for 24 hours. Only 24 hours, mind.
This has resulted in a bank charge of a staggering Â£38. Which is not a huge amount of money for a bank (except perhaps Northern Rock at this stage), but for little old me, with my freelancing lifestyle and general lack of money, Â£38 is a whole week’s worth of eating and drinking. Or enough DVDs to last me a month. Or two trips to London. Â£38 is worth fighting for.
And anyone who has read a newspaper recently will be aware â€“ as I was â€“ that bank charges like this are essentially illegal. A bank is entitled to charge you for administration costs resulting from a misdemeanour (which in my case will, at most, have amount to the printing and posting of a letter to tell me that I have exceeded my overdraft limit â€“ something which wouldn’t cost Â£38 even if they couriered the letter to me, which they clearly haven’t as I’ve not received one yet). Anything above these costs amounts to a punitive fine and they’re not allowed to do that.
Armed with these facts, I set out to Natwest this afternoon all set to avert another screwing.
The woman at the information counter listened briefly to what I’d come about then disappeared into an office for half an hour, emerging eventually with a blond, tall man whose entire appearance seemed to be designed for banking or presenting a shopping channel. He greeted me with a grin and showed me into his office. “Nice to meet you, mate,” he said with an Australian accent, and shook my hand, trying to befriend me prior to another attempted screwing.
He then proceeded to interrogate me. He kept up the pally language, calling me “mate” throughout, whilst looking through my bank details in puzzlement, trying to find a point at which money had actually entered my account at any stage.
“How do you usually…er…get paid?” he asked, which I felt was a slightly irrelevant query from a bank which had just robbed me.
I got to the point and asked him very nicely if he could undo the bank charge since the limit had been exceeded for only one day through sheer mistiming.
He said that he saw my point (mate), but that it was out of his hands and the bank wouldn’t be able to undo it because that’s just how it works.
I fixed him with my steely eyes and explained that I had read a newspaper recently and was fully aware that bank charges such as these were not legal, so would he please refund my money.
To which he responded, “nah, nah mate, that’s different I’m afraid, the charges can only be refunded if the bank makes them in error, but, you know mate, this charge, it’s part of the system, yeah? You see? If you want a refund it’s like, it’s handled by a different organisation, right, cos the bank can’t reverse it I’m afraid. Mate.”
At which point, in the parallel universe of what James Lark should have said next, I responded “on the contrary, it is in fact the bank’s legal responsibility to either justify the fine of Â£38 or to admit that it is a punitive charge and refund it, so either you are bullshitting me on behalf of the bank or you are worryingly ignorant to have an office in this establishment. Which is it, please?”
In real life, what I said was “thank you”, after which I gave him a tight-lipped smile and left, with him almost certainly under the impression that he had successfully screwed me with my pants on.
But I did hurry home, check my legal information on the internet then pen an angry letter telling Natwest in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going to sit down and let them screw me. And dammit, this time I’m really not. Every website on the subject is urging me to stand up for my rights; they all tell me that the bank will try to bluff me into believing that the charge is legal, a response I have tried to counter-predict in my letter, though I imagine they will skim through it and send a standard response, so I’m guessing I’m in for the long haul. Verily, even unto the courts. Â£38 would be a very small claim even by the standards of the small claims court, but I’m almost hoping it goes that far because then I can be some kind of working class hero stroke martyr and maybe over time bring to light the other multiple screwings I’ve been enduring.
Which is not to say a simple apology and a cheque for Â£38 wouldn’t go unappreciated.