A long time ago, I opened a Euro account. It was so long ago that I cannot remember why. It was not in disloyal anticipation of the UK joining the Euro, which my Party opposes; nor was it to export wealth offshore. The account is with a British bank in the UK and the modest interest it earns each year is known to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, who confiscate 40%. There must have been some distant obligation which had to be settled in Euros. I had satisfied my bank that I was still the same person who had opened a sterling account with them, and not a drug dealer, by providing the necessary utility bills and driving licence. I had funded the account, and drawn one cheque on it.
Then, like Rip van Winkle, the account went to sleep. Indeed, it risked being swept up in a blitz on dormant bank accounts and given to a sanctuary for retired donkeys.
But I was reminded of it when the euro-sterling rate became a political issue and we were planning a three day break in Italy during the Christmas recess. Why not put these euros, whose value had gone up when the value of everything else I owned had gone down, to good use?
I went into a branch of my bank in Andover and asked how I might make a withdrawal from my Euro account. A small queue built up behind me while advice was sought, but they couldn’t help. I looked up the number of the branch of the bank in Glasgow and eventually got through to someone we will call Hamish. I asked him if I could have my money back.
No, he replied, that would not be possible. The refusal was delivered in the same tone as if I had asked for a loan, (although, in this case, the bank was the borrower and I the lender). The return of funds deposited was not a service which the bank provided.
I gently pressed him on the matter, pointing out that I could precipitate a run on the bank if I told my friends in the media that it was refusing to repay deposits. The building would be surrounded within the hour by elderly compatriots and he would be unable to get home to see his children. He would be taken into public ownership. He was unrelenting (the bank had already been nationalised). If I wanted to get my euros out of the bank, I would have to ring a third party, order some euros from them, and get them to debit my account.
I googled the third party. (They don’t have a telephone number but they do have an email address.) I set out my proposition to put some business their way.
They replied as follows. “Thank you for your email. Your email is important to us and will be answered at our earliest opportunity. Customer Services UK is operational, Monday-Friday, between the hours of 09.00-17.00”
My email was sent at 9.14 in the morning, but by 5pm, the earliest opportunity to answer my important email had not presented itself. Nor was there a reply the following day.
So I tried the local branch again. They could not have been more helpful; but the process required by HQ was convoluted. I would need to write out a Euro cheque, and pay it into my sterling account. There would be a delay while that cheque was cleared and the euros sold. With the sterling proceeds I would then buy back the euros I had just sold (once the sterling cheque had cleared). But by that time, we would be back from Italy. In the meantime, the third party emailed back. They couldn’t help.
So it looks as if I will have to do what I always do – buy Euros at the airport.