Nationwide own goal?

I’ve been following the fall-out from the Nationwide Building Society (through its subsidary, The Mortgage Works) decision to ban new mortgage borrowers from letting their property to people receiving national housing allowance. According to The Telegraph, The Mortgage Works has about 20% of the buy-to-let market.

On moneymarketing.co.uk National Landlords Association head of policy Chris Norris says: “There is a huge market for tenants in receipt of local housing allowance and if the private-rented sector does not help to support housing provision, many tenants may be left homeless.”

The news didn’t seem to have done Nationwide Building Society any harm until jonnyvoid.wordpress.com published a blogpost about the situation, which attracted a concerned audience, who started sharing the news among themselves and then popped up on the Nationwide Building Society facebook page to complain.

Among the cleaner posts, Matthew asked about how: “this position seems on the face of it discriminatory against the most vulnerable in society, and how you see it fitting with your ethics, as now I’m seriously minded to take my custom elsewhere.”

According to Ethical Consumer, the Nationwide currently ranks in 6th place in its guide to current accounts. But many customers are complaining that this new decision is unethical.

The social media staff have gone ominously quiet on their own facebook page, perhaps waiting for instructions from above about what message to give out. But the longer they wait, the more complaints they will receive. It will be interesting to see how they do respond, if at all and it shows how even a large organisation like the Nationwide can get caught short on social media.

But the story has another dimension. On twitter, an American insurance company may find itself receiving unwanted negative attention as it has the twitter handle @nationwide is receiving complaints whereas the Nationwide Building Society’s handle is @asknationwide. And on Twitter the social media staff have continued to answer customer queries, perhaps deciding that the Facebook page is best left alone.

Usually PR disasters are avoided if companies take swift action to recognise the complaint and to deal with it. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the Nationwide to respond and whether they will stick with their decision.

The Nationwide Building Society’s tagline is “on your side”.

Update: The answer to how long it would take for Nationwide to respond was ‘not very long’. By 4:30pm Nationwide had announced that they had changed their decision.

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