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Cost of living crisis: can you go to your bank for support?

One in six households are now in 'serious financial difficulties', but some banks are offering extra help

Many households are now considered to be in serious financial difficulties despite eligible Britons receiving the first part of a £650 cost of living payment last month.

According to a survey by Bristol's Personal Finance Research Centre, of 4.1 million people who claimed they are facing hardship, 71% have reduced the quality of food they eat, 36% have sold or pawned possessions and 27% have cancelled or not renewed insurance in order to cut costs.

With inflation and energy bills predicted to keep rising, what are banks doing to help customers during the crisis?

Which? spoke to some of the UK’s biggest banks, and found that while some have launched targeted cost of living support, others claim that existing services are being ramped up to cope with demand or are already robust enough to provide the necessary support.

We'll update this article as we hear more.

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Barclays 

Barclays hasn’t announced any new cost of living measures but says it is taking steps to ensure its affordability assessments (mortgages and unsecured credit) reflect inflationary pressures to avoid potentially unaffordable lending. It also says its existing support is robust enough to help customers during the current crisis. 

For example:

  • Each month, Barclays assesses customer accounts for signs of financial difficulties and contacts them to offer practical, tailored advice and support to help better manage their money. 
  • The bank’s Money Worries Hub offers advice on how to cope with financial pressures, whether it’s gambling addiction or coping with financial loss.
  • Barclays also offers money management sessions for people struggling to manage their budget. You can book a telephone or video appointment via the Barclays Money Mentors site.
  • The Barclays app has tools to help people keep on top of their finances, such as card controls which allow users to set daily spending limits or turn off the ability to make online payments.

HSBC

New cost of living support hub launched

The bank launched a new Rising Cost of Living support hub in May. It aims to help customers understand why the cost of living crisis is happening, provides tips to help save on costs, and offers help on where to go for additional support for any customers who are struggling.

More staff are on hand to help

During the Covid-19 pandemic, HSBC increased the number of people in its financial support team. The bank says it has continued to operate at that level, claiming it is well positioned to offer extra help to customers during the current crisis.

Online banking tools

Online and app tools to help customers manage their finances were launched before the cost of living crisis began to bite, but the bank claims they are especially useful now.

The Balance After Bills tool in HSBC’s mobile banking app, for example, was launched in 2019 and is now used by three million customers a month. It works out the total amount that's due to leave your account from any standing orders or direct debits you've got set up, and leaves you with the remaining balance until your next pay day. 

This updates throughout the month, so you can see how many bills have already been paid and how many are still to come. There's also a tool to help manage subscriptions.

If you're worried about your finances, you can try HSBC's assessment tool, which analyses spending, borrowing and savings habits to give a ‘fitness score’. Depending on the result, you'll be offered tips and support on ways to improve your finances.

Lloyds Banking Group (including Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland) 

The Lloyds Group isn’t currently offering any new support, but like other banks it sends regular communications to customers about services already available that can help people manage their finances. These include offering financial health checks and budgeting advice appointments with trained advisers.

The group says it also regularly writes to all customers in persistent debt, or repeat overdraft users, to advise on changes they can make to pay off their balance quicker and save money on interest.

The bank is also keen to promote how its mobile app can help customers budget and cut costs. One feature for example enables users to manage and cancel subscriptions within the app without having to contact the individual subscription providers. Customers can also freeze and unfreeze different types of transactions on debit or credit cards and can set their own contactless limit on their debit card. There are also controls for gambling, spending abroad and online payments.

Monzo Bank

Monzo told us it has a raft of tools and features which are supporting customers with the cost of living squeeze. 

Its specialist Vulnerable Customer team, for instance, has more than doubled over the past year. This team is trained to listen and support customers who are experiencing difficulties that affect how they manage their money. Upon request, they also help customers apply merchant or gambling blocks, add custom spending limits and restrict lending.

The bank's support team also offers help for customers in financial difficulties because of borrowing - for example by giving them breathing space to regain control of their payments.

Its current account also has lots of features designed to help people better manage their money. The Monzo Pots tool, for example, lets people put money aside for shorter or long-term saving. There are also instant notifications to alert customers when they spend and reminders about upcoming bills.

And if you get paid into your Monzo account, you can access your money from 4pm the day before it’s due.

Nationwide

Cost of living hotline

In August, Nationwide will launch a free telephone hotline for customers affected by the cost of living.

Members experiencing money worries will be answered by trained experts from across the building society’s main branches. The service will be available from 9am-4.30pm weekdays and 9am-noon on Saturdays. Nationwide aims to answer calls to the hotline within 10 minutes.

Struggling customers will be contacted directly

Customers that Nationwide identifies as showing obvious signs of financial difficulties will be contacted by in-branch experts, from August. During the phone calls, experts will seek to better understand their situation and offer any advice to help them improve their circumstances.

Cost of living training for all frontline staff

To ensure customers are given the right advice and are directed towards the support they need, the provider says it's investing in extra training for all staff, whether in-branch or on the telephone.

Face-to-face appointments

From October, there will also be an opportunity for people to meet with one of Nationwide’s cost of living experts face-to-face, over the phone or via video. They will offer financial health checks, money management advice and saving tips.

There will also be regular virtual and in-branch workshops, where customers can receive practical help with managing money and avoiding financial pitfalls.

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NatWest Group (including Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank)

The NatWest Group has contacted 2.7 million of its personal and business banking customers who it has identified as being on the lowest incomes and are now spending more than 10% of their monthly incomings on energy. These customers are being offered support and information about the rising cost of living. A range of fees and charges have also been waived for customers in financial difficulty

The banking group has an online cost of living hub, providing help and information for customers who are struggling, or are worried about their finances. There, you can find online advice, and tools such as a spending tracker and budget calculator. And you can book a video call with a senior personal banker to help review your money situation.

The bank is also promoting its financial health and support services which it says work with specialist partners such as PayPlan and Citizens Advice to provide expert help and advice.

For instance, if you're worried about missing a payment, or already have, you're encouraged to reach out as soon as possible via chat options on your banking app or via online banking. If you start the chat with the words 'struggling financially', you should be directed towards the right support.

Santander

Santander told us that the hundreds of new staff recruited and trained over the past year to join its financial care teams will help support customers during the cost of living crisis.

The provider is also offering the following help:

  • Contacting a million customers via email and text that it believes may be starting to feel the squeeze, directing them to support via its website and app or with third-party debt organisations. These include customers whose balance is getting smaller at the end of each month, who are in danger of going into the red, who are spending a large proportion of their income energy costs, or who are overly reliant on credit cards to pay essential bills and withdraw cash. 
  • Its online content is targeted around supporting customers during the cost of living crisis, with guidance and tools to help with budgeting.
  • The My Money Manager feature in the mobile app can alert customers when their spending or bills change and show them where their money is going by category.
  • Customers can request free email and SMS alerts when their balance goes below a set amount or when credit/debit payments are made.

Find out more: 17 ways to save money on your household bills and living costs in 2022

Starling Bank

Starling Bank says its app already offers plenty of money management features that can help people keep on top of their finances. For example, the Saving Spaces feature allows customers to set aside money from their main balance, while its Bill Manager tool means customers can put aside money for bills and pay them straight from their savings.

People who are in financial difficulty can also contact its 24/7 customer support team via its in-app and online chat service, by email or by phone on 0207 930 4450.

TSB

TSB says it's promoting existing tools and schemes to customers looking for help and support with the cost of living. 

For example, its Money Confidence team is available for expert advice on how to manage finances. They are available by video or phone appointment, in branch or at one of its pop-up banking hubs which can be found in community locations across the country, such as village halls and local council offices. 

TSB says current products such as its Spend & Save account - which offers cashback and a £2,000 overdraft - as well as banking app features that allow customers to keep track of bills and transactions, can also be helpful

Its Money Worries page also has tips and advice if you need help managing your money, are struggling with debt or need help with your TSB products, while it is keen to shout about its fraud protection record.

Virgin Money

Virgin Money told us that it has demonstrated to customers throughout the pandemic that it will always be there to support them, and it says that hasn’t changed. 

It has a range of forbearance options used to help customers if they are struggling, such as giving you extra time to pay debts if you fall behind, or freezing fees and interest. If customers are concerned about their finances, they're encouraged to get in contact.

What to do if you're worried about your finances

If you're worried about keeping up with your mortgage, credit card or loan repayments - or you've missed payments already - you should contact your lender in the first instance. Even if they're not listed here, or providing specific cost of living support, they should still be able to help you find a remedy to the situation.

If you'd prefer, you can also get independent advice from a number of debt charities. 

StepChange offers free, confidential debt advice from money experts, recommending the best solution based on your circumstances. Citizens Advice offers free guidance on everything from debt solutions to finding financial advice, while Money Helper can also advise about living on a squeezed income.

You can also read up on free advice from Which? on how to deal with debt.


This article was first published on 16 July, and has been updated several times since then. It was last updated on 12 August with details of cost of living measures from additional banking providers.