Beware Europe’s hospital scam

Piper Terrett rounds up this week’s personal finance news, including the Spanish scam aimed at sick tourists, and the IT problems plaguing RBS customers.

Holidaymakers off to Spain this summer, be warned. Private hospitals are luring tourists who fall ill on holiday to their clinics and landing them with big bills, says Teresa Hunter in The Sunday Telegraph. Insurers say the culprits are being aided by tour operators, taxi drivers and even local police, who are "offered backhanders" for directing tourists to cash-strapped private clinics, rather than state-run hospitals.

The clinics then refuse to accept the tourists' European Health Insurance cards (Ehics). Some have even hired debt collectors to chase outstanding debts. The European Commission has threatened Spain with legal action over the issue, and similar problems have been reported in Portugal and Greece.

Meanwhile, travellers should be vigilant and demand treatment covered by public healthcare. Before you go, get an Ehic card, which entitles you to the same medical treatment as an EU resident, whether free or subsidised. Some hospitals may require payment upfront, but the NHS will reimburse this. However, the Foreign Office stresses that the Ehic is no substitute for travel insurance. Contact the NHS Ehic helpline on 0300 330 1350.

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As savers in Cyprus face a government grab on deposits over €100,000 (£85,000), could the same thing happen in Britain? Richard Evans in The Daily Telegraph notes that events in Cyprus have broken "the taboo on imposing losses on ordinary savers" and comments from Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem suggest raids on savings held by British expatriates in the eurozone periphery could be a possibility if there were further banking crises.

It's unlikely the UK government would break the £85,000 deposit guarantee, but it makes sense to spread your savings across multiple accounts and banks, ensuring no one account holds more than that figure. If you hold an account with an EU bank, check if it belongs to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

Royal Bank of Scotland customers were hit by yet another IT glitch last week. On Thursday morning NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank mobile app users were locked out of their accounts from 6.30am until after 12pm. This comes three weeks after a hardware fault left customers unable to access their money via cash machines, and nine months after a software upgrade locked millions out of their accounts for days, notes FT Money.

Last year's fiasco cost RBS £175m to fix. The bank worked quickly to deal with the issue, says Simon Read in The Independent, but the fact that RBS is now a "repeat offender" means customer trust is likely to be in short supply. Time to switch? New rules this year will make changing banks easier, so it's well worth considering.

Brace yourself for "energy price pain", writes Ali Hussain in The Sunday Times. Official forecasts suggest that the average dual-fuel bill will rise by £278 to £1,545 by 2020. Green taxes account for half the increase, while wholesale energy prices are predicted to rise by 15%. The government says households can save around £452 by improving energy efficiency.

However, Scott Byrom at warns that this is based on consumers spending hundreds of pounds on new energy-efficient goods, which could take years to recoup. If you haven't already done so, check you are getting the best deal by consulting one of the many comparison websites, such as

Piper Terrett is a financial journalist and author. Piper graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge, in 1997 and worked for Germaine Greer and for Adam Faith’s Money Channel before embarking on a career in business journalism. 

She has worked for most top financial titles, including Investors Chronicle, Shares magazine, Yahoo! Finance and MSN Money. She lectures part-time at London Metropolitan University and is the author of four books.