Business

Savers join forces to fight the interest rate plunge

Customers of Northern Rock queue outside the Kingston branch
Image caption Northern Rock customers withdrew their savings after the bank collapsed

When the credit crunch hit, our financial authorities moved quickly to keep the banking system going.

Interest rates were slashed to their lowest point in the Bank of England's history, to bolster those with mortgages and loans, as well as businesses across the country.

Savers, however, have never had it so bad.

The fall in rates meant that in 2009, savers were £18bn worse off.

So it was only a matter of time before savers as a group started to get organised.

Enter the Reverend John Strain.

From vicar to savings activist

As well as being the vicar for five parishes in the village of Compton, Mr Strain is also one of the founders of the group, Save Our Savers, an alliance fighting for a better deal for Britain's savers.

Mr Strain has been inspired by the experience of people in his parish, and life-long friends such as Mike and Patricia Ellis.

The Ellises had hoped to be living comfortably after saving for more than two decades.

But since 2007, the returns on their savings have fallen dramatically.

The interest rate of one typical account has fallen from 4.5% to 1.3%, which has meant that Mike has to be paid for his voluntary work with a cancer research charity, and Patricia is looking for a part-time job.

This year, savers have also had rising inflation to contend with.

So the increase in the cost of living, coupled with falling income from their savings, means many have ended up as the forgotten victims of the economic downturn.

Shopping around

In addition to cutting interest rates to keep money pumping around the economy, hundreds of billions of pounds was made available to the banks by the Bank of England and the government.

This included the bailing out of some of the biggest brands on the High Street.

Image caption The Reverend John Strain is leading the campaign for better interest rates for savers

With that amount of taxpayer aid, some savers had hoped that returns would improve - but they have been disappointed.

"I don't think they're necessarily designed to provide greater returns for savers or perhaps equally to reduce borrowing costs," said Eric Leenders, of The British Bankers Association.

"It's simply to make sure that the system as a whole maintains its integrity and that has to be for the benefit of all of us," he added.

Banks will only make more attractive deals available when the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee raises its base rate, according to Mr Leenders.

With base rates so low, the deals being offered by the banks mean that savers putting money away now are in fact making a loss, because few, if any saving accounts, give a better rate than inflation.

Especially after you have paid tax on your savings.

Many savers are also left with low rates on popular cash Isa savings products after their first year, when so-called "bonus rates" are removed.

These can fall dramatically, so savers who do not check their rates and transfer to a better one can lose out.

Despite the lack of attractive returns, financial advisers still want savers to look for the best possible offers and move their money to take advantage of them.

Until base rates go up, it is about the only option open to them.

How to beat tough times: Money Watch, BBC Two, 2000, Wednesday 21 July.

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