Not Smiling

I guess it had to happen at some point, nobody is perfect, and despite riding high at the top of numerous customer satisfaction surveys, there had to be some part of the organisation at Smile and the Co-operative Bank that wasn’t quite up to scratch, and unfortunately I’ve managed to find it.

The people in question are the Tax Services group, and their job is to handle all the stuff related to tax, in my case with the Mini Cash ISA that I’m trying to set up in order to take the money I had in an ISA with Icesave. This in actual fact is the crux of the problem.

When I claimed my money via the Financial Services Compensation Scheme it was returned via an electronic transfer into my regular current account. As the money has a tax free status I was then issued with a certificate stating how much money I had, and confirming that it was still tax free. In theory what is supposed to happen is you set up a new ISA with another provider, and then send the certificate to them and they reinstate as with any other transfer. Since the money is sitting in an account with the same provider I thought it would be pretty straightforward – I was wrong.

The general problem seems to be that since handling a transfer via a certificate is out of the ordinary, it is not covered by regular procedures. Some banks, Nat West for example, have now issued a memo to each of it’s branches detailing the process for taking in an Icesave ISA, Smile it seems has not – although after this I hope somebody senior sees fit to issue one, as to be frank the people at Smile seem to need some guidance.

When I initially set up the new ISA, I had already told them where the money was coming from. At that point the advisor put me on hold whilst he consulted with the Tax Services department, who told him that I needed to fill in a special form, and that they would send the form. I went ahead and opened the account, and waited for the form to arrive in the post. A week or so later a letter arrived welcoming me to the account, but with a standard transfer form. I waited a bit longer, and still no form, so I phoned again, and again the advisor said they’d talk to Tax Services to get the form sent. A few days later and still no form.

I phoned again, and once again waited whilst the advisor spoke to Tax Services. The advice this time was that there was no form and that all they needed was the certificate and a covering letter, and the advisor provided me with the address of the Tax Services department. I duly wrote a letter explaining where the money was, including the certificate, and dropped it in the post box.

A couple of days later I had a phone call from Smile querying the fact that I had opened the account, but there was nothing in it, having explained the situation, the advisor then didn’t suggest there would be any problem having sent the letter and the certificate.

That was about a week ago. This morning I logged on to see if they’d made the transfer. With all the bad weather it was quite likely the post had been held up. Looking at the accounts, the money was still sitting where it had been, and there was no acknowledgement that my letter had even been received. There was however a message from Tax Services, apologising for the delay and saying that they had dropped the relevant form – the form Tax Services had told the advisor didn’t exist – in the post and to fill it in.

At this point it is fair to say that I exploded. There is a single copy of the certificate, which they hadn’t even acknowledged receipt of, and they couldn’t seem to make up their mind what they needed. I replied to the secure message, and waited several hours – there was no response so I therefore phoned them again, and spoke to another advisor, who then talked to Tax Services to try and find out what was happening.

The first thing she did was confirm that they had indeed received the certificate, but that they were now insisting on me having returned the signed form. The big frustration here is that as the customer I am not allowed to speak to the Tax Services team, like some other corners of lousy customer service in other organisations they hide behind the not speaking to customers, and essentially leave the front line call centre staff to deal with the inevitable results of their actions. The only suggestion I was offered was to send a secure message – the problem being that I’d sent one of those already and hadn’t got a response, and they hadn’t bothered to send a message asking me to fill in the form and acknowledging receipt of the certificate either. She said that the reason they wanted the form was that they needed my signature – despite the fact that they have that on the letter I sent. Indeed with the certificate and the information in the letter they have everything they need to make the transfer, it just seems to be that they are on a major jobsworth streak wanting me to fill in the form.

The big frustration is that through all of this, the money is languishing in my current account, and I’m losing daily interest all the while Tax Services at Smile mess around giving conflicting advice, and not sending the forms they said they would.

I’m certainly going to raise up a complaint over this, as after years of exemplary service, and at times actively going out of their way to help, this current experience has been a total pain, and the behaviour of Tax Services is letting the whole of the rest of the organisation down.

As a general day-to-day bank, I’d still recommend Smile – through all of this the advisers have always been helpful, indeed the woman this morning seemed just as frustrated by the intransigence of the Tax Services team as me. But seriously, if you have anything out of the ordinary, in particular that involves the Tax Services team, I’d say to go somewhere else.