Sunday, 28 April 2013

Oh, Santander

A guest post  - or perhaps a warning tale - from hip young gunslinger Caramel Betty, relating what happened when he tried to change his mortgage provider from one branch of the Santander* organisational tree to another. 


When I bought my flat, it took me 35 days from end to end. I walked into the flat, looked round, and made an offer (conditional on the valuation etc. not showing up any major faults). The flat was vacant and the owner was a buy-to-let landlord who wanted out of it quickly. If I could do it in a month, he'd knock a "small" amount off the price, which more than covered some of the additional hassle - like paying rent on my old flat while also accruing interest, that sort of thing. These 35 days covered an inspection/valuation, choosing a mortgage, sorting out exchange and completion of contracts, document searches, my solicitors having to ask their solicitors to clarify things at least once, and being given the keys.

In the interests of being totally honest, I was going through a mortgage broker (who lived in a cubbyhole in the estate agents I used). I had looked at another flat about a week before, and decided not to go through with it in the end - the flat was gorgeous, but it had a very short leasehold, and extending it would have potentially put the price up quite a lot, with some uncertainty. This meant the mortgage broker did already have a photocopy of a few important documents (payslips, some ID), but at the very most that would have taken another 24 hours to sort out. I could easily have taken them along to the flat viewing, anyway.

The mortgage was all sorted out, and in the end I went with the Alliance and Leicester. I can honestly say I had no trouble from them at all throughout the mortgage, including swift and efficient handling of the occasional overpayment.


The deal I was on expired, and for a fair while I was on the Standard Variable Rate. Sorting things out involved effort and hassle, and like a lot of people I'm probably very bad at really thinking through the real effects of compound interest. Sorting out a new mortgage would only save me, what, mumble pounds per month, right? But if you put that through a compound interest, over the lifetime of the mortgage, that'd save me enough money to buy, I don't know, Saturn, right? I know the principles and can actually do the calculations if I need to, but, you know, effort.

I finally got round to choosing a new mortgage. I wanted an Offset mortgage, because it meets my needs which are, basically: I want somewhere to stash my cash savings where I still have relatively easy access to them. I'm not about to buy a yacht and have champagne parties with the Abramoviches, but I have sufficient cash savings that it's worthwhile. For personal reasons, locking things up for five years in some investment or other doesn't suit me.


Looking around the market at offset mortgages, I decided to stay with Santander. It wasn't the best product on the market, but other options seemed to strongly encourage me moving my current account to them. I'm happy with that where it is. Also, sorting out valuations and things involves money and hassle, as do exit fees. Alliance and Leicester are part of the Santander group, so this is going to be easy, right? Read the website (done). Phone up and talk through a bunch of stuff with some eager sales bunny who needs to read me a bunch of disclaimers and waffle. Probably some paperwork to prove it's really me. But fundamentally, one bit of Santander already loans me a large sum for my mortgage, and I'm just moving it to another bit. This can't be hard, surely?

(I don't have the exact dates written down, so one or two of the dates that follow might be off by a day or so.)

Phonecall 1 - Day 1 (February 16): I phone up and talk to a lovely guy, who is friendly, charming, and has a lovely accent. Think a male equivalent of Ruth Archer, who's less inclined to tell you off for tracking in mud from the milking shed. If this was Blind Date, I would pick him. He has a long script to cover, and he does it in an efficient manner without turning into a robot. The offer is valid for 14 days, and he'll get it in the post ASAP. I need to send that set of papers back ASAP, then they'll send a second which I'll need to get witnessed and send those back, and then they'll send a third set of papers.

Phonecall 2 - approx Day 10 (February 25): The papers still haven't turned up. Even if they went out second-class, they should be here. The woman I speak to is apologetic, and arranges to have them sent out again.

Phonecall 3 - approx Day 15 (March 2): Still no sign. The woman I speak to explains that because I wanted an offset mortgage, her colleagues would have needed to change their printer settings. Offset mortgages use a different printer, and they're a fair bit rarer than the other mortgage types, so maybe it screwed up. At some point, the mortgage offer got extended - maybe it was phonecall 2 or 3, I forget which.

Phonecall 4 - Day 21 (March 8): I call back, and each of the people on phonecalls 1, 2 and 3 have told me to call back and press a particular sequence of keys on the telephone prompt system, so I press the sequence they gave me. This sends me to Santander mortgages, not Alliance and Leicester. Santander mortgages cannot access the A&L system - even though the offer I've been given is for a Santander mortgage! It is now apparently too late to talk to someone from Alliance and Leicester, so I get to call back tomorrow. Yay.

Phonecall 5 - Day 22 (March 9 - Saturday): I call up again. It's very unlikely to be a problem with printer settings, they explain, because if you try to print out an offset mortgage to the wrong printer, the system stops you. (Handy!) Very sorry, we'll send these papers out by recorded delivery. It's a Saturday lunchtime now, as I've waited for the post to come, so the papers might not get sent out until Monday. Because people sometimes use terms like 'recorded delivery' to mean a couple of different things the post office do, I specifically check that this will mean I can phone up and ask for a tracking number. Yes, it will.

Phonecall 6 - Day 25 (March 12 - Tuesday):  I'm at home today, by random chance. The post arrives and nothing has turned up. I phone up and ask if I can have the tracking number. "No, because it wasn't sent out." Uh... helpful. This phonecall actually turns into a couple of phonecalls, but they're initiated by the person I called. She explains that she works in Leicester. When she prints things out to be sent to me, they go to a different office. This used to be in Bradford. It has very recently changed to Glasgow. There are apparently some issues in the handover. She phones up Glasgow, frogmarches them through printing out and sending out my offer. She phones me to confirm that Glasgow have an envelope in their sweaty mits. They can't confirm the tracking number yet. She phones me back a couple of hours later (presumably when the post guy turned up, or something), and gives me the tracking number. After a while, the Royal Mail tracker site knows the number really exists. All good.

While talking to her (during the first phonecall, I believe), I express extreme unhappiness with the way this has all gone, and she raises a "customer dissatisfaction" (!), which includes texting my mobile. Hence I know this date. (The resolution of this customer dissatisfaction is, roughly, "Well, you've got it by recorded delivery now, so shut your cake hole.")

Still Day 25 - The offer had been extended at some point in this process to 28 days. Even had it been sent on Day 22, that could still be quite tight. I ask if it can be extended again. Alas, no - but she can work around that by creating a new offer for me with the same details.

Day 26 (March 13): The letter turns up! But I am at work, so I get the "While you were out" card through the door.

Day 27 (March 14): I go to the sorting office on the way to work, and get the offer. I read it overnight, sign it, and send it back on Day 28. By and large, it is correct. Interestingly, at a couple of points in the process, they've checked that they definitely, definitely have the right address for me. It would be upsetting if you didn't, because that would mean you valued the wrong flat. The offer I get says words to the effect of "You have asked us to send correspondence to 29 Acacia Road, and not the address of the mortgaged property." Except: a) that is the address of the mortgaged property and b) it doesn't state anywhere what the address of the mortgaged property is, if that's not it. I imagine that the person I spoke to manually typed in my address, which triggered some system or other, but it's still a weird letter to get.

Day 28 (March 15): Send it back, with a cheque.

Day 33 (March 20): The cheque clears.

Approx. Day 40 (March 27): The second lot of paperwork turns up. No recorded delivery, but it does get here. This is the one that needs to be witnessed. The Easter weekend is rapidly approaching and I've taken a day or two extra, and visit family for the Easter weekend. I take the paperwork with me, but everyone I see for more than five minutes is close family and I'd rather get someone less connected with me to witness it, so I end up waiting until April 2 (Day 46) before I can send it back.

Day 52/53 (April 8/9): Unbeknownst to me, Santander finally set up my mortgage.

Day 53 (April 9): I get a letter from the Alliance and Leicester half of Santander. It thanks me politely for my enquiry of how the redemption amount of my mortgage has been calculated. (I have not explicitly made any such enquiry. I assume it's an automated thing provoked by some activity in the system somehow.) The first page very explicitly tells me to send it back when redeeming my mortgage. The back page has four options to fill in, none of which apply to me. The closest is to the effect of "At the same time as shutting down this Alliance and Leicester mortgage, I have a new Alliance and Leicester mortgage, with the account number: __________________" for me to fill in. This isn't quite what I'm doing, but seems plausible.

Phonecall 7 - Day 54 (April 10): I phone up and query how I should fill in this form, since it doesn't appear to apply to me, but is also quite insistent I should send it back. "Oh, you don't need to send that back. Your mortgage was closed a couple of days ago, Santander should be sending you the paperwork imminently." During this phone call, I also point out that they have not only sent me my redemption statement, they have also sent me the redemption statement for a Mr and Mrs Powell's property. The person on the phone immediately freaks out and is completely unable to discuss this at all, so I send the paperwork back with a letter encouraging them to improve their data protection compliance.

Approx Day 57 (April 13): The paperwork confirming the account turns up.

At this point, I want to log in to the online banking system. In the past, I had a Santander cash ISA - it was good value that year. I no longer have it, but the e-banking login still works. (I'd checked before.) It knows who I am and would let me, say, apply for a credit card - it's just I have no accounts to manage. Logging in now, it knows I have a mortgage! Presumably it connects up the names and addresses. It will tell me the mortgage account number, it won't tell me the balance, and I can't get any other details out of it. At this point, I wonder if it still needs a day or two to catch up, so I choose not to harass them immediately.

Phonecall 8 - The morning of Day 62 (April 18):  I phone up and explain that I can see the account in my login, but it doesn't work. I want to manage the mortgage online. They can set up some new online banking details for me! Can't you just activate it on this one? No, you have to have a different login for a mortgage. (Santander's website explicitly tells you you can manage all your accounts from one login.) Sigh. If you want to manage your mortgage online, I can arrange that for you now. Yes, please, that's why I have this mortgage. So take down this number, and we'll send you a passcode in the post.

Turns out there are actually three things I need - the registration number they gave me on the phone, and two random other numbers. The first envelope I get several days later has the registration number in it and one of the other two numbers, and warns me the third number will come soon. The third number arrives on...

Day 68 (April 24): I finally have all three numbers. Let's log in and see all this whizzy shininess! It'll be awesome, right? It looks... exactly the same. It shows me I don't have a bank account, I don't have a credit card, and I do have borrowings. It shows me the account number and the sort-code, but no details. No balance, no contents of the savings pot, no ability to tweak payments, no ability to do anything. It is entirely identical to the login I already had.

Phonecall 9 - Day 68 (April 24): I dig around the Santander website a lot, looking for anything I might be doing wrong. I can't find anything I'm doing wrong. I give in and call e-banking support. "Is it possible your account is set to View Only?" Well, I can see an option in the e-banking system to change it to View Only, but I can't see anything suggesting it already is View Only. "Ah, but have you filled in a View and Transact form?" I found that on the website before calling, and it says that's only necessary for mortgages in more than one name. *puts me on hold* "Yes, I think it's correct that you don't need to fill in one of those forms. I'll need to talk to the mortgages department to check your mortgage has been set up correctly, but they're not here at this time, so can you call back tomorrow?" Sigh.

Phonecall 10 - Day 69 (April 25): I call back. I explain what's happened, and say that the person I spoke to last night said she thought she'd need to talk to mortgages to check the account was set up properly. (I don't know what "properly" really means in this context.) I get put on hold, and then - to my surprise - transferred to the mortgage department. Oh, hi, sorry, wasn't expecting to be transferred to you, but this is the problem... and I assume I've been transferred to you to check it's configured properly. "Oh wait, did you say your mortgage is with Santander?" Yes, I did indeed. "You've been transferred to Alliance and Leicester mortages." Oh. "Let me transfer you." After being transferred, the person in Santander mortgages is able to flip the right switch. She says it's an overnight change, which is usually code in computer systems for "It won't happen immediately, so just give it some time, cheers." So I check a few hours later, and I can log in and see my balance and everything.

The menus and options aren't the best I've ever seen, but I do manage to kick off a transfer from my current account to the savings pot. It's called a "Lump Sum Deposit" and it doesn't say for certain when typing in the details whether it goes to the savings pot or a capital repayment. I manage to find an FAQ that covers this (you have to phone up to make capital repayments after a transfer, so...), and it does confirm this on the second screen. For reasons I don't understand, deposits like this take them a week to process, so some time on Day 76, I'll be able to check that the deposit has worked okay. Then I can move my savings into it properly.

But seriously: 35 days, an estate agent, a mortgage broker, an insurance company, two sets of solicitors, and a vendor to get myself into a vast amount of debt vs 69 days to get one bit of Santander to move a debt to another bit of Santander and let me actually put money into it. What?

Bonus fun: Throughout, I have to authenticate myself to Santander. One of the questions is about where the payments for my old mortgage come from, which is my current account with a different bank. In what feels like every phone call, I therefore get asked something like: "I notice your current account is with AnotherBank. Would you like to take out our Rory McIlroy-endorsed Santander 1-2-3 account?" After the first few times, I try very hard not to phrase my response as "Can you see the notes on my account about trying to get you guys to sort out my mortage? Can you imagine me letting you guys handle transferring my direct debits? Are you insane? I'd rather take a pint glass, put it in a blender, and gargle with the shards." I think my tone conveys a similar level of displeasure, however. 

* Nearly typed Satander there. Bad Glenghis.

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