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Office of Fair Trading calls for faster progress in payments system reform

25 March 2009  |  6708 views  |  0 London - Big Ben

The time it takes for electronic bank payments and cheques to clear for consumers has speeded up but further improvements are needed, the UK's Office of Fair Trading says in its first review of the work of the Payments Council.

The Payments Council was set up in 2006 following an industry probe by the UK's competition watchdog, and charged with setting out the strategy for UK payment systems and resolving competition, efficiency and incentive issues.

Key improvements the Council has overseen include the speeding up of slow cheque clearers, notes the OFT, as well as the implementation of the Faster Payments Service.

However, in its review, the OFT found that the Council's progress has been "disappointing" in some areas.

"It is still too slow in driving improved payments for customers, with the Faster Payments Service only operating at 69% capacity across member banks," says the watchdog. "Also, more attention needs to be given to the Council's integrity objective, which includes putting plans in place to ensure that if one payment system fails, the others can take the strain."

The OFT also chided the Council for not being more proactive in establishing where improvements are necessary, and instead reacting to external pressures for reform.

Cavendish Elithorn, OFT senior director of services, says: "More work is needed to sharpen the Council's focus on the flexibility and efficiency of its systems and to make sure benefits are passed on to the end-user."

Over the next two years, the OFT says that the Payments Council should ensure that the Faster Payments scheme is rolled out fully across all member banks, and that it should commission an independent audit of its progress in meeting integrity and disaster recovery objectives.

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