I'm a payments expert – four ways to prepare NOW for a bank outage so you're not left out of pocket | The Sun

BANK outages are not just inconvenient, they can leave you out of pocket – here's what you need to do to protect yourself.

Bank outages are not uncommon – we regularly see firms suffer payment problems, technical issues or system glitches.

But these can cause a major headache for customers – especially if it means they don't receive their wages or a direct debit isn't paid on time.

Myron Jobson, personal finance campaigner at Interactive Investor, said: "The idea of not being able to access your account online can be debilitating for an increasing number of consumers who bank exclusively online.

"Worries about accessing money, paying bills on time and avoiding overdraft fees are among the list of concern during a glitch or widespread outage."

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He said there are three things you need to do to protect yourself in case of an outage:

Download the apps

Sometimes with outages, it's a particular part of the system that's broken – not the entire thing.

Having multiple ways to login to your account could help you sidestep technical issues.

For example, if the website is down, you might still be able to access services through your banking app.

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Or if the app is down, you might still be able to call – so store your bank's customer services number in your phone too.

Myron said: "If that doesn't work, going to a branch could be an alternative option.

"But it's rare that an outage will hit all of your access points at once."

He points out, however, that apps which don't have multiple ways you can access your account – for example, newer app-only banks – could leave you with fewer options during an outage.

Get a pre-paid card

Have an alternative way to make payments is crucial during an outage.

And while you could consider opening a separate bank account to have as a back-up, but Myron warns that having lots of accounts could impact your credit score.

Instead, he suggests having a pre-paid debit card in case of emergency.

Myron said: "There is no credit check for a pre-paid card, so no risk to your credit score."

Pre-paid cards are a good way to stick to a budget, as you can only spend or withdraw the amount you have loaded on to the card.

They are often used by people who are unable to get a bank account.

Options include Tesco Bank's Clubcard Pay+ – you'll need a Clubcard to get one, but there are no fees and you manage it through the Tesco Bank app.

You'll also earn Clubcard points when you spend with the card.

HyperJar is also app-only and fee free – but it's only for spending online and in store, you can't withdraw cash from an ATM with the card.

Consider switching

If your bank seems to suffer regular issues – it could be worth moving elsewhere.

Myron said: "Online bank outages are typically infrequent- but if you're finding that they are not, it could be worth switching to a bank that has a history of fewer outages."

Switching banks is easy – you just need to open a new account and give your old account details to the new bank, and it will do the rest.

The whole process should take around seven working days, and your standing orders and direct debits will be switched over automatically too.

You can often nab from free cash for switching too. Currently, First Direct pays £175 to new customers, and Santander is offering £160.

Check the terms and conditions before you switch to make sure you're eligible for the bonus – and be sure to consider factors such as customer services and outages too.

Know about your other payment options

Paying bills by direct debit is easy because you don't have to remember to make a payment – but it's not the only way.

When signing up to any provider that you pay by direct debit- whether it's your car insurance or energy bill – it's worth checking what alternative payment methods are on offer.

With car insurance, for example, paying for a year upfront is cheaper than paying on a monthly basis if you can afford to.

Myron said: "Most creditors also offer alternative payment options, such as paying online through their website.

"Others will accept cash from an ATM or let you settle debts via a PayPoint or Payzone.”

If your bank suffers an outage on the day you have a direct debit due to leave your account, contact the company you are set to pay to flag the issue in advance.

It may be able to put a note on your account and cancel any late payment fees to avoid you claiming them back later.

What if my bank has an outage?

If you suspect your bank is suffering an outage, sites like DownDetector can help you check.

You can also look on social media such as Twitter for announcements and its website if there is a service status page.

Banks aren't obliged to give you compensation if they have technical problems, but you shouldn't be left out of pocket.

If you were hit with penalty fees or late payment charges as a result of the outage, you should be able to claim these back.

Make a note of the date and time of the outage, and how exactly you were affected including any extra costs you incurred.

Follow the bank's complaints process, which you should be able to find on its website.

If you're not happy with the outcome though, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

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This is an independent body, which will look into your case and decide how it should be resolved.

If it finds the bank was at fault, you may see any fees, charges or fines reimbursed.

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