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Online and mobile banking: your rights when something goes wrong

Nationwide customers were left without access to some banking services twice last week due to IT failures.

Online and mobile banking was unavailable for several hours and angry customers took to social media sites to vent their frustrations.

But Nationwide isn’t the only provider to have been plagued by technical faults. Last year thousands of RBS customers were completely cut off from their bank accounts for several days.

In March RBS customers suffered again as NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank systems were disrupted.

When this happens, it’s not only stressful and frustrating, but can cause a lot of problems if you’re due to make a standing order payment, for example, which doesn’t go through.

However, instead of just ranting on Twitter, you can take a more proactive approach and ask your bank for compensation.

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Computer failures

Last week it was Nationwide customers who were stuck without certain banking services. But even if you weren’t affected there is no guarantee it won’t be your bank next.

If this does happen, the provider should put a message out, either on its website or social media feeds, to let customers know exactly what is happening.

Last week thousands of customers took to Twitter to find out what had happened to their accounts and speak directly to Nationwide. This is a really good way of finding out instantly how you’ve been affected and getting a response from a company.

For those people who aren’t online, calling up the bank or visiting a branch is another option – although this is likely to take some time.



Compensation

The amount of compensation available will depend on the individual bank or building society but if you’ve been left out of pocket, you should be refunded.

RBS put aside £125 million in compensation when its computer systems went down last June and customers were encouraged to contact the bank if they had been affected. In this case you’ll need to keep records of anything you’ve paid out extra for – such as if money has been withdrawn twice from your account by accident.

Even if this hasn’t happened, the bank may set aside money to compensate people for the stress and annoyance of losing their banking access.  However, this is typically judged on a case-by-case basis and can take a while to happen.

Instead you could always lodge a complaint directly with your bank.



Complaining to your bank

In the first instance you’ll need to complain directly the bank, in writing. It helps to include as much detail as possible, along with copies of receipts if you've been left out of pocket.

It then has eight weeks to respond to you. If after this time you’ve not received the response you want, you can take the complaint further and go to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

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Switching current accounts

If you’re fed up with your bank you could always act with your feet and switch to a different one.

There are a lot of good offers around for new customers so it’s worth taking advantage of these if you’re looking to switch. First Direct, for example, will give all new customers £100 just for joining and setting up a current account.

[Related link: Compare top current accounts]