VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Banks must not let us down

Budget day was always the most important date on the calendar of a financial journalist. 

We’d spend weeks poring over leaked proposals, examining how they might impact the average person’s pocket. 

There would be endless meetings with accountants and analysts — and essential discussions about what sugary snacks would keep us pumped on the day. 

Warning: One sniff of a threatening debt collection letter will be all it takes for banks to lose the trust they are only just starting to win back

Warning: One sniff of a threatening debt collection letter will be all it takes for banks to lose the trust they are only just starting to win back

Warning: One sniff of a threatening debt collection letter will be all it takes for banks to lose the trust they are only just starting to win back

But now, every and any day could be a budget day. In a desperate attempt to protect livelihoods and businesses, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is wheeling out major new policies almost routinely. 

But two of his very first financial safety nets unveiled back in March are about to come to an abrupt end — rather aptly, on Halloween. 

Before coronavirus, scores of workers had never even heard of the word ‘furlough’. 

Now many can’t imagine life without the scheme that protected 80 per cent of their wages when it finishes this weekend. There will still be help available for workers and businesses. 

But it will not be as generous, and there are very real fears that unemployment levels could explode as a result. 

The Financial Conduct Authority has already warned that 12 million people could soon struggle to pay their bills. 

Adding fuel to the fire, mortgage holidays will also no longer be widely available after Saturday. 

An astonishing 2.5 million borrowers have taken advantage of the repayment breaks since they were introduced in March.

Some seized the offer as a precautionary measure and have since been able to restart their repayments without a problem. But for hundreds of thousands of families — particularly those who have fallen through the cracks of the Government’s support packages — these payment holidays have been the only thing keeping a roof over their heads. 

Adding to their misery, blanket credit card, personal loan and car finance repayment holidays, along with interest-free overdrafts, are also being withdrawn. 

From Sunday, borrowers will instead be at the mercy of individual lenders. 

The financial watchdog has warned banks that they must work with customers to help them keep up with payments, but there are no longer any clear rules or requirements. 

Back in March, I wrote in this column that after the banks’ gargantuan failings in 2008, it was their turn to bail out the taxpayers they betrayed. And to their credit most have risen to the challenge. But they mustn’t stop now. 

One sniff of a threatening debt collection letter will be all it takes for banks to lose the trust they are only just starting to win back. 

We’ll be watching.

Mortgage dread 

While on the topic of banks and mortgages, is there any chance lenders could give a smidge more notice before pulling deals or hiking rates? 

If professional brokers can’t keep up with the constantly changing goalposts, what hope do ordinary homebuyers have? 

Axing deals when borrowers are midway through the application process causes major hold-ups. And the clock is already ticking for those hoping to make stamp duty savings before the end of March.

Watch wonder 

After my moan last week about how facial recognition technology doesn’t work when you’re wearing a face covering, several readers had the bright idea of carrying around a photograph of a mask-less me that I could hold up to log in. 

This tickled me, so I tried it. Alas, it didn’t work — though my partner Chris enjoyed my attempts. 

The good news is Money Mail’s letters editor Tony Hazell reminded me that my Apple Watch lets me make payments with ease. 

As you have to enter a passcode each time you put the watch on your wrist, there is no need for facial recognition, fingerprint technology or even a PIN — you just double-tap the side button and hold it up to the card reader. 

The watch also knows when it is removed, and prompts you to enter the passcode the next time you put it on — vital to ensure thieves don’t go on a shopping spree. 

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