Sent a payment to the wrong account? |
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Tim Leonard

Tim Leonard

Finance Expert
Published: 24/04/2014

Have you ever clicked 'send' on an email and realised it's gone to the wrong person? The result can be potentially annoying or embarrassing. But what happens if you click that button on a large payment and realise you've sent it to the wrong account? Your first reaction would likely be to panic - but what do you do next?

The world of electronic payments is advancing all the time (the new Paym mobile payment system, for example, launches next week) and this is making banking a lot easier, but it can also make the potential for errors more prevalent.

At the touch of a few buttons money can be electronically transferred from one person's account to another, and for this to happen correctly it is down to your own accuracy and conscientiousness. However, we all make mistakes and human error is inevitable at times, so what can we do about it if we realise that we have accidentally sent a payment to the wrong account?

This is where the Payments Council have stepped in to help, offering consumers a clearer and faster process to follow in the case of error. From May, a new voluntary Code of Best Practice will be put in place, with the Payments Council working with banks and building societies to help consumers recover their money as quickly and easily as possible.

Here are the main points:

  • When a customer notifies their bank or building society that they have made an electronic payment to the wrong account, action will commence on behalf of the customer within a maximum of two days.
  • If a bank is unable to reclaim funds immediately – for instance if the recipient disputes its return – the customer will be notified of the outcome of their bank's investigation in a maximum of 20 working days from the point of enquiry and in many cases much sooner.
  • If funds cannot be recovered through the standard process, customers will be given clear and accurate information on the options they have available to them – such as court action against the recipient.
  • Banks and building societies will ensure the design of online, mobile and telephone payment channels reduces the risk of a customer making a mistake. This might involve: customers being asked to input account details twice; extra warnings about using the correct details; or prompting customers to check payment details that have not been used for some time so they can be updated or deleted as necessary.
  • If a customer does not get the service they should expect under the new Code, they should firstly follow their provider's formal complaints procedure, and failing a satisfactory outcome, take their complaint to the Financial Ombudsmen.

Customers should note that there is no guarantee involved with this code and they still may not get their money back, but it is designed to encourage banks and building societies to assist customers as much as possible and to keep them informed as to what action they may take.

Adrian Kamellard, chief executive of the Payments Council, said: "Sending a payment with the wrong sort code or account number is like sending a letter with the wrong post code and address – it won't reach its intended destination and can be very difficult to get back. The overwhelming majority of the millions of payments we send each day reach their intended destination without any problem, but if you are unlucky enough to make a mistake this new process should help."

Many banks have already signed up - Adam & Company, Barclays, Clydesdale Bank, Coventry Building Society, Coutts, HSBC Bank plc, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide Building Society, NatWest, Santander UK plc, Tesco Bank, The Co-operative Bank, The Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank – and others are expected to in the coming months.

The sort code and account number are the only details used to address a payment but 49% of consumers incorrectly believed that the name of the recipient is checked, while a further 15% thought the postcode is taken into account. This highlights the importance of double checking the two key sets of numbers, as well as the bill amount and payment reference.

Remain vigilant when using any electronic banking system and if you do make a mistake, notify your bank as quickly as possible to get the ball rolling to recover your cash – and the same goes if you receive money mistakenly into your account.

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Information is correct as of the date of publication (shown at the top of this article). Any products featured may be withdrawn by their provider or changed at any time.

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