On 20th June 2012 we were informed by NatWest bank that there were some technical issues with bankline and they would keep in contact to make sure that any disruption to our service was minimal. At this time we had managed to make our usual Wednesday payroll and all contractors had been paid. We could see our statements and all seemed pretty normal. The following day there was a problem, we could not see our bank statements but we could input and upload batch payments to our system, we could also see CHAPS payments arriving but not the more often used Faster Payments. We did a test where we sent £20 to one of our staff and requested that they sent it back. They confirmed receipt of the £20 but we couldn’t in fact see it on our payment summary as being returned to us. Following this, in the knowledge that payments were being received, we paid our usual contractors on Thursday night for clearance in their accounts Friday morning.
On Friday morning we could not see our bank statements OR a Payment Summary so we could not see whether anyone had been paid. We received a letter from NatWest at 9am on Friday informing us that the expectation was that payments would be made that day, an extract of that letter is below:
The phone system was in meltdown at this time, most of our workers are paid by 9am every Friday as they have become accustomed over the last 12 years. We knew we had sent half of the payments on Thursday and were processing Friday’s payments on the basis that we expected to have been paid by our clients. We had informed NatWest of this action and expected them to make good any payments made without a valid receipt.
We completed the payroll process for Friday by 10am, the delay being caused by the need to respond to all the incoming calls, all payments had been uploaded to the bank and authorised. Not having access to our bank statement OR the payment summary we had no idea who had been paid and who had not, nor did we know which clients had paid us and which had not.
The calls coming into the office were constant and we heard tales of people not being able to top up their electricity meters as they rely on their weekly wage to fund them through the following week, some people only had a few pence on their meters. Other people had mortgage payments not made, some couldn’t pay their rent, others didn’t have enough food in the house to see them through the weekend. All the staff could do was repeat the information we had been given by Natwest; that we expected all payments to be cleared by the end of the day as was stated in the above letter. We closed after 7pm.
Work was done over the weekend to try and establish who had been paid, if anyone.
On Monday morning it was clear that a very large number of contractors had not been paid as was expected over the weekend and they were understandably angry, distressed, disbelieving and any other number of adjectives you can imagine to describe a person at the end of their tether.
By 9.30am we had discovered that anyone paid on Friday for clearance on Friday had actually received their money, but all of the people paid on Thursday, around half of our entire workforce had not been paid at all, the payments made as Faster Payment (the majority) were showing as expired and nothing was on the bank statement. The single CHAPS payment we had made on Thursday had in fact cleared. It was us who informed the bank of this scenario and it was conveyed to them that we needed to make these payments again, immediately.
We were told in no uncertain terms not to do this, and to wait for further instruction. So we waited, responding to the incoming calls by explaining what has happened, specifically that if we had tried to pay you on Thursday you had not been paid yet. The anger and distress felt by these people was on a level never experienced before. Most seemed to disbelieve our explanation as we had assured them on Friday by phone, text and in some cases email that we expected them to be paid on Friday.
Many had gone without a decent meal all weekend, some had run out of electricity in their homes, one man slept on the streets of Glasgow after being evicted from his B&B, and still the calls were coming.
We were then called by our Relationship manager and informed that all payments made on Thursday would be made on Tuesday, the following day. After much argument about how unacceptable the situation was, informing him of the situation of some of our workers it was no good, if we were to pay all of these people today, knowing they would receive their money today and thus relieving them of their hardship we were told that if we do that the payments would be made again on Tuesday and NatWest would not cover the loss which we now know to have been well in excess of £300,000.
Shortly after 1pm we received another letter stating that the expectation was that the payments would be credited on Tuesday, an extract is below:
In the meantime our Director, Ken Taylor, having left a comment on the BBC’s “have-your-say” page received a number of calls from BBC staff. He was on The World at One on Radio 4, the same clip was repeated on News Programmes on Radio 5 and later that day a Camera Crew turned up and he was interviewed for the BBC Six O’Clock News which was later repeated at 10 O’clock. We continued the day until gone 7 trying to convey the situation to our workers, and helping where we could.
Checking the bank statement at 20 past Midnight we still couldn’t see these payments being made but by 6am they were there, all of Thursdays payments being released 5 days late and all “Timestamped” 00:00, which we know not to be accurate.
So that is the story of the worst crisis in the history of Bar 2, a problem caused solely by a process undertaken by RBS / Natwest and likened by Mr Stephen Hester to poor weather causing a delay to an aircraft. Really?