NS&I – redefining customer service, but not in a good way

Those of you that don’t like my rants, stop reading now.

OK, you’ve got this far. I want to tell you about my recent experiences with attempting to buy premium bonds from NS&I. And before you all tell me it’s not a good investment, yes, I know that, but it’s a better investment than the lottery. And I bet most of you play that (I don’t). I’m also hopeful that my experience might serve as a warning to others before they manage to walk into the same customer service black hole that I’ve just stumbled into.

Up until 2 or 3 months ago, buying premium bonds online was really simple. All you needed was your holder’s number and a valid debit card. You went on their website and bought the bonds. Your certificate arrived in the post a few days later. Everyone’s happy.

But then, they introduced a new online system. First of all, registering on it was a pain. I now have in addition to my holder’s number a brand new and shiny NS&I number that is so long you simply can’t remember it. I also can’t remember the exact hoops I had to jump through to get my account set up, but it was pretty painful and involved various ‘phone calls, letters, forms that were too small to write on properly, pin numbers, security questions and very strict rules on passwords that were acceptable and those that were not. Anyway, I managed to jump through these hoops (I think it took me about a month all told) and got myself set up.

Tonight, I decided to attempt to buy a few more premium bonds. The site challenged me for my NS&I number. After messing around in my filing cabinet, I found it. It then wanted the 4th and 6th characters of my password. Now I work in computing so I know not to write my password down and leave it lying about. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one I could remember because of their rather strict rules on passwords. I went through the password reset routine instead. This involved answering questions on-screen and then NS&I ringing me via an automated system to ask for a number that had appeared on-screen (it was a good job I was at home!) The final act of their system was to tell me my new temporary password “was being sent to me”. I was then unceremoniously thrown off the website via a pop-up (not good practice). I then spent the next 10 minutes checking my email inbox before calling them to ask where my temporary password was. Apparently they send them out by post.

Sighing a little, I then asked if I could simply purchase my bonds by ‘phone instead. To which the answer was a resounding “no” – at least, not until they’d sent me my new password and me having logged in and reset it. This was despite them knowing who I was, having provided them with my name, address and holder’s number (they weren’t interested in the NS&I number for some strange reason). Apparently, if you’ve managed to lock yourself out of their online system then they can’t sell you anything by ‘phone because the two systems are very tightly linked. Their suggestion was that I made my way to the nearest Post Office and buy them over the counter as it could take a few days for my password to be finally reset.

I complained. They’ve given me a complaint number. They will acknowledge my complaint by letter in the next week. It could then take another 28 days to respond to it.

So much for customer service. NS&I have lost my custom for the foreseeable future. I’m off to buy lottery tickets instead.


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Reader Comments

  1. Arnold

    Or you could set up a premium bond syndicate like we did and let the syndicate manager wory all about it. It’s been running so long now (over 20 years) that we’re starting to have people retiring from it!

  2. Sonya

    Love your ramblings:-) Used to be a keen investor but with markets as they are, have given up. Besides, don’t have time to chase potential waves…. So lottery tickets may be the next best thing!!!

    • tim

      I need to update this post at some point. NS&I’s response to my complaint has been incredibly impressive. They rang me to talk about it the next day and my new password appeared a day later.

      They’ve not changed anything (yet), but it was obvious that they understood the issue (particularly the point about the online and telephone systems being too tightly coupled when attempting to buy products from them). I’m a slightly mollified customer now – even if I’m still not happy!

  3. Ohrats

    Same sort of experiences, but some new ones too. I agree though that the apparent security measures do not actually increase security, merely hinder use. Just wanted to add my own gripes. I was astounded to discover the only way I could view my address, phone number etc. (under preferences) was to change them! I have submitted an email pointing this out to them, but, c’mon how stupid is that. Some apparently minor other things reflect poor design, like once you enter the first requested character of your password the cursor does not automatically jump to the next box ready for the second character … this kind of thing is website design 101. All very poor, and quite worrying that it probably reflects other poor design issues … hopefully not security though. I’m tempted to instruct closure of my online account and force them to continue doing everything by post.

    • tim

      I hadn’t delved that deeply into the website, but I’m not surprised at what you say based on my limited experience of it so far!

  4. tim

    … and the saga continues. I’ve now had a letter from NS&I that contradicts what their customer service centre and complaints rapid response team told me! Apparently, it is possible to buy Bonds using a BACS transfer direct from your bank account, without having to go anywhere near their website or call centre, or have a password and all of the nonsense that goes with it. Sighs.

    Details, if anyone else is interested:

    Removed 30/09/2011- apparently the advice given to me about this originally was incorrect!!

  5. Harry

    Not happy with these peolple as they lie and contradict themselves in letters. I tried to register online and i received a letter asking me to sign a form and have it witnessed as they didn’t have it on file. I did this and received another letter stating that i couldn’t be registered as my last signature didn’t match the one they had on file. It’s now a month since my first attempt and i am now complaining about their service and why the need to lie and contradict each other. Makes me feel the time is right to withdraw the money i have lodged with them

  6. tim

    I’m not sure about lie, but they certainly contradict themselves in the letters they send you. I’ve since had another letter from them telling me that you can’t do a direct transfer to them from your bank account, but that it may sometimes be possible if they are feeling benign. I eventually managed to get £25 from them as a goodwill gesture, but I’ve given up with them now.

  7. Chris

    Glad I’m not the only disgruntled one. What a farce their system is. I’ve happily bought premium bonds to safely store my tax money till needed for years. Last year I applied for the online/phone password, but by the time all the forms were filled in & I finally got it, I’d withdrawn the money. So I never used it. Then I wanted to buy more, but because I hadn’t used the password quickly enough, it didn’t work. So guess what, I have to call them, and not only do they have to send out the new password by post, but we have to do the whole form filling in thing again. Jeeeezus. I have an account. I have purchased from them before. Just let me buy the damn bonds already! Grrrrr

  8. Stanley Gibbons

    Somebody in the Organisation was / is paid megabucks for setting up this overcomplicated system . I am 66 years of age & by no means backward but I am sure anyone of advanced years would be petrified by the intricacies of the ns&i set up.I am now thinking ahead &wonder if I will be able to get my hands on my own money when I am finaly freaked out by the ns&i systems. Time to reconsider.

  9. Sue

    Further to other comments on this subject, I have been set up to manage Premium Bonds online for some time but now I have attempted to make several withdrawals in a couple of weeks, system rapidly started being not satisfied with my NS&I Number and random characters from password, started adding pages asking for answers to security questions which I answered correctly then finally logged me out because the system says my answers were incorrect and online access is suspended! On ringing them today (Saturday) I now have to wait until at least Wednesday of next week for password change info in post (I DON’T NEED TO CHANGE MY PASSWORD, THERE WAS NO PROBLEM WITH IT!) and then if I am successful in resetting my info, it will take the proverbial 3 working days to transfer the withdrawal into my designated bank account! Also nowhere on the website does it tell investors that answers to security questions may ALSO be required for withdrawals, even if their NS&I Number and password info are accepted. Not at all impressed and am becoming convinced this is some sort of ‘ploy’ to take longer to process withdrawals or make them more difficult to obtain. Their website generally is really poor and it is almost impossible to find even their postal withdrawal form without going through many pages on the website.

    • tim

      Hi Sue,

      It was some time ago that I wrote the original post – I was hoping that my complaints and those of others might have improved the situation by now, but apparently not. I hope you manage to get your issues resolved with NS&I soon. However, make sure that you do register a formal complaint – it’s only in this way that organisations ever start to improve – and they did compensate me in the end as well.


  10. Pete

    Still as bad in April – had a password reset by post and attempted to set up the link to get Premium Bond prizes sent to my bank account (not that there are many nowadays) but it then asked for security answers to questions that had no answer! EG what is your spouses middle name (she does not have one!!)

    Helpline then suggested I must have completed that box last year – which is odd because she didnt have a middle name then either….
    The previous posts say it all – very badly designed, and far too complicated for what should be simple transactions…

  11. David Williams

    I too have just been astounded by this system. As you say “All you needed was your holder’s number and a valid debit card. You went on their website and bought the bonds.”
    It was all too simple. Now I’ll just go to the Post Office and pay cash. That’s progress for you.

  12. Charlie

    I’ve also recently tried to log on. The website said it was calling my number … which it didn’t. Then it locked me out. I called their helpline and answered all their security questions … so they will send my a temporary password via post! What a ‘joke’.

    Also, some months ago I registed to pay the winnings into my bank account. I’m still getting cheques if I win anything. Their systems are really a shambles.

  13. Rich

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one having this problem. It doesn’t help that their website looks like a poorly executed phishing scam, but their password reset requirements are farcical. I’ve just locked myself out (again), not been phoned (again), and then while trying to reset over the phone been told I must provide them with the name of my eldest cousin on my fathers side. Now given my father has no nephews or nieces I can’t even get the reset via letter.

    You can (apparently) however withdraw all your money by filling out a form, so no access to their website required (although how this is more secure than an online/phone reset I don’t know). Anyway, for whatever good it’ll do I’ve filed a complaint. I imagine they have a lot of them.

  14. Phil Watt

    Totally agree
    And as a result I am cashing in my “investment”
    Who thought of the sending the password through the post? They have my email address and my phone number – both are more secure (and faster and less of a hassle) than receiving something through the post that contains my full name, my NSI number and temporary password.
    I would have like to keep cash in PB’s but feel the security flaw in their system and their lack of understanding of customer convenience outweighs is just not worth it.
    I told the guy on the phone this and he gave me the tediously predictable, sorry but this is how it’s been set up.
    My advice – if you are considering premium bonds, you need to take into account that your money is locked for a week.
    Goodbye NS&I

  15. cool

    I hear you loud and clear and Amen… I went through the same crap with them (5 times). I also complained to be told that they are in line with all other financial institutions and that they take security seriously blah blah blah!!!! I explained that they are nothing like other sites which I have never had these problems with and that their security shouldn’t be so tight that it actually locks customers out of monitoring their own savings. I got nowhere. I am presently waiting for the 5th time to receive a snail mail reset and no doubt will be waiting again next time I try to log on. stupid stupid system.

  16. chinmusic

    I thought it was just me until it happened again. Worked in IT for 25 years, well up to date, security savvy. Twice now I’ve had the temporary password, set my own (NS&I do demand a reasonably strong one but not too difficult) logged in, set security. Yesterday set some pic and phrase up so I know where I am. Today I appear to have lost my marbles and the password doesn’t work. Absolutely convinced I know what it is, so tried twice, and quit out of the third attempt as I knew that would lock it, been there before. It then submitted a blank attempt and – locked me out. Agreed the pop-ups/visuals are amateur night. Oh good I thought with this new screen they’ll e-mail me a new password, no its a letter ! Perhaps some crazy scheme to generate more traffic for the post office? Service Desk no help at all. Hopefully password turns up quicker than the last one and I can buy before the end of the month. Never had a problem with any other site and am currently 0 for 2 with this one.

  17. samuel henry kimble

    At 84 years old, and having won £50 on an old bond, the £50 coming up on “unclaimed prize” section, after a lot of phoning and aggro I was finally sent my cheque. It could not be paid directly into my bank account as I had not registered for this, in spite of some old style bonds with the face value printed on them already being paid into my current account. I then wanted to know the value of the winning bond, as I had no record of this and it was not printed on that bond or another similar one. This information (Iwas told) was not even up for discussion. I found their whole attitude very unhelpful and intimitating. I am considering buying more bonds, but am fearful of future dealings with NS&I

  18. marion jones

    And another frustrated premium bond online registration victime. all i wanted was to add to my existing bonds, register online seemed a good idea….not so…once registered and finally loged in via my grandfathers inside leg measurement and my budgies birthday, there is no link fer BUYING PREMIUM BONDS!!!!!! ahhhhhhhh

  19. Jigpig

    Crikey, I thought it was just me. I am acting as power of attorney for my mother, and decided to invest her savings somewhere safe. I have just had an almighty row with a guy from the NS & I. Back in November I sent them the on-line registration form so any winning can be paid directly into my mothers account, unfortunately the form has not been received by them. Am I the only person to have his mail go missing when you send it to these guys? After a lengthy “discussion” with the droid from sector 7 I jokingly suggested I would send the next form by recorded delivery, but of course the reply was a smarmy, “If you feel you need to do this for your own security purposes, then please do so…” Arrrgh, you “$£%^&r,!
    After reading the posts above I think I will forget the online crap and let them send any winnings out by post.

  20. Beryl Peril

    Did you ever find out if you can buy Premium Bonds by Electronic transfer, straight from a Bank account? You can set up a standing order, so that information should work for single transactions. It is officially impossible to buy Premium Bonds for another person now… I don’t know how the old syndicates do it, which is how I got my original ones. Theoretically, If it can be done by electronic transfer, all you need is the Premium Bond Number. As the minimum purchase us now £100 I am not keen to experiment.

    • tim

      Hi Beryl,

      I didn’t bother pursuing it any further – all of my interactions with NS&I are currently by mail and that’s how it will stay as far as I’m concerned!


  21. Mush

    Bloody Marvelous!! You couldn’t make it up! My 17 year old daughter has just opened a letter from NS&I Premium Bonds telling her that she can no longer buy from the Post Office using cash.
    You spend years teaching young ones to save and invest wisely only to find the rug pulled from under your feet by mandarins from a different planet to the common man.Young savers become matuure savers and in thses austere times you might think a savings based company would be making life easier for savers rather than reducing their options,
    Well done NS&I, you might want to check on your foot, see if it has any signs of blood.

    • tim

      They’re still accepting applications by post (assuming your daughter has a cheque book Of course). And it is a Freepost address, so perhaps worth looking into?

  22. Ange

    I am in this spiral of trying to log on , inputting something wrong because I have to reset my password each time which involves s validation phone call followed by a long wait for a letter followed by another attempt to reset the ridiculously security sensitive passwords that if I wasn’t too late using the reset letter the waiting for another one by which time I have forgotten it again
    Aaaagggggggghhhhhhhh NS&I for gods sake do you not want any business ???
    I also gave up and went to the good old Post Office ……

  23. Sue de Nym

    I’ve just had exactly the same problem – now 18 months later (no nothing has changed). I was in the middle of logging in to NS&I and had all my details to hand (yes I have to write them down as these numbers are ridiculously long). Now, this is the fourth time I’ve tried to log on and I have had problems every time. Each time I’m frozen out and each time they have to send me a new password in the post. Each time I have to ring an expensive phone number in order to get this new password.
    I ring the 0500 number on my mobile (I have no landline phone) having to listen to the sales patter about their different products at my expense – I thought they were promoting saving? A sickly-sweet voice makes me even more bad-tempered, so by the time a real person comes on to the phone I’m seething. However, deep breath and I mimic the sickly-sweet voice to save upsetting the poor girl in the call centre. I answer two questions – the first country abroad I visited (mmm, that was a long time ago) and my favourite book as a child (… even longer ago). Oh dear, I don’t remember having one specific favourite book, it was more of a favourite author, but giving that doesn’t really answer the question, but I try it anyway – my goodness I get them both right!
    So I make a polite compaint about the poor quality website and ask her if she will pass on my message, she assures me that she will. Fully aware that she probaby won’t as she hasn’t got any input in the top-down management world in which she works, I thank her profusely. I’m now awaiting the arrival of my password to go through it all again. I was originally logging on to invest some more in Premium Bonds, but I think I’ll look elsewhere as I can’t bear the frustration.

  24. Dave

    Being asked for 4th & 8th character of Password is a problem when Password is only 7 characters long is a problem!!
    No problen say NS&I just keep going round untill system asks for characters up to 7. Still trying!!!!!

  25. Ju

    I have just had the same problem, with the message on the screen waiting for password link, then ringing them and they advised lots of people were saying it was confusing, it didnt say the password would come in the post. I have reset my password four times and asked if I could buy premium bonds on line, but apparently not as we also need the online password to buy them on the phone. So I am now awaiting my fourth password as the third one went missing. With a bit of luck I will be buying them this financial year. They are going to lose a lot of custom if this continues.

  26. Warren

    Beyond a joke, have they got a 12 year old designing and managing their site for them (probably not, they would do a better job). The site was down for the weekend so my first exposure was today. There are some way over the top security options and unbelievable error messages that appear when trying to do anything with your account. My fear is that they will end up loosing my money through the same sloppy coding and then there will be no proof of where it went. I’m sticking with paper and face to face transactions to be on the safe side. Very poor considering this is part HM treasury, opps the same people looking after the economy, go figure…

  27. chinmusic

    Unbelievable – now 0 for 3 with this website after another attempt to increase PB holding online (see last rant 23/10/12). I know what my password is. I know its case sensitive. I can identify what the 4th and 6th characters are. This site is seriously unfit for purpose !! And the helpdesk say point blank after 2 attempts “well if you get it wrong again you will be locked out” so I put in 2 more characters that I absolutely know are correct and yup it locks me out. So thats another letter then and another week wasted. I have several letters ! I work in IT, I am not stupid, I transact with all kinds of sites and have never come across anything as staggeringly bad as this.

  28. Alex

    The other funny part is they take a secure password and turn it into a 2 digit password (the 4th & 6th characters), which is less secure than a cheap combination lock.

  29. Mark

    Or you could just calm down a bit, think rationally…..
    then realise that I have been purchasing the WINNING BOND NUMBERS
    that you WOULD HAVE owned! …. But thanks for your comments that
    directed me to who to thank for my amazing wins 😀

  30. margaret

    Having just spent most of the afternooon fighting NSandI’s online system (which I had registered with already and won’t bore you with the frustrating details and eons of time they took to set it up) they locked me out after sending me round and round in circles. Giving up on the online route I phoned them and spoke to a very nice man who informed me that the only way I could get back in was to wait for a letter (letter!) from them giving me details of how to re-register. “Can’t I do this online like all the other sites when one gets locked out” I said – “no we have to do it through the post.” By this time it would have been preferable to have pins stuck in my eyes, I am awaiting with bated breath the letter which he assured me would be with me in a “few days”

  31. Trevor McDingle

    Very poor customer support. I used their email support form to ask them to explain their policies – such as:
    * holding your money for over a month, with no interest paid, before enterring it in the draw
    * Keeping your money for 8 working days (without being enterred in the draw) after you request to make a withdrawal.

    The reply I received was along the lines of “I can confirm we don’t enter you into the draw for the first month and I can confirm we take 8 working days if you ask to withdraw funds”.

    They basically reiterated my original questions, rather than having any desire to justify why they hold our money for such long periods without any benefit to us (the actual owner of the money they are holding on to).

    Considering the vast amounts of money NSANDI hold in their Premium Bond fund, the potential interest lost from NSANDI keeping hold of investor’s money for up to 40 days (with no benefit to the investor) seems hard to understand. I’m not totally surprised they avoid responding to questions that ask them to justify this policy.

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