A little while back Lloyds Bank did something smart. 

Having taken note of the way the wind was blowing - not least the Financial Conduct Authority saying unauthorised overdraft fees were “too high” and some chargers were “unreasonable” - it cut them. And by quite a bit. 

Usually when the market leader does something like that the rest of the herd takes note and moves in the same direction. Regulators quite like it when that happens in response to their rumblings because it can spare them a job. 

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But it hasn’t happened in this case as Which? has made clear. It compared the capped cost of a payday loan with covering unexpected bills and the like by going overdrawn without first calling the bank. In modern Britain, with its squeezed household budgets and long hours culture, it’s really quite easy for that to happen. 

What the research found was that some very big banks have done something that would have seemed about as easy as swimming the English Channel with lead weights attached to your ankles a couple of years ago: They’ve managed to make payday lenders look good. 

The consumer group looked at the cost of borrowing £100 for 30 days through overdrafts that haven’t been pre arranged with 16 banks. In the case of 13 you really would be better off paying attention to those infuriating ads that still pollute cable TV. I’m talking about the ones where the harried mum with a broken down boiler suddenly has all her problems solved by listening to a jingle. 

According to Which?, TSB, which has got good at generating negative headlines of late, was over 6.5 times more costly, charging £160.00, followed by HSBC and its First Direct unit. Their charges were 6 times higher at £150. The state backed RBS and Natwest clocked in at only a little less: £144.

They were all of them beaten by Santander, at 7.5 times and £155 more expensive. Which noted? that it has committed to remove fees on unarranged overdrafts for its paid current accounts from July this year. But not from other Santander accounts. 

Lloyds charges, by contrast, are £19.80 cheaper than a payday loan at just £4.20. It’s worth remembering, when banks start whinging about the cost of offering ‘free’ in credit banking, that Lloyds is still managing to make a ton of money. 

Which? has timed the release of the data for a week ahead of the planned publication of the results of a review into the sector by the Financial Conduct Authority. 

With a large group of MPs lining up behind Which?, the pressure is on the watchdog to bring the hammer down. And it should do that. 

Every time someone raises the subject of these usurious fees I have to pinch myself. 

It’s through being left with the feeling that I must be having a dream about time travel that’s taken me back fifteen, twenty years ago when the UK was basically a sensible country and people didn’t take the prospect of Boris Johnson, London mayor, seriously let alone Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary. 

This is because we’re still having exactly the same conversation about unauthorised overdraft charges that we were having back then.

Change is long overdue. The payday loans industry has learned to work within the confines of a cap. It’s a pity that the allegedly more respectable banks look like they’re going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the same place. But I suppose there's a reason that their leaders are called bankers. 

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