Barclays test patience

Having a mortgage with Barclays was a result of a discussion with a mortgage advisor when I bought I first house. They worked out the cheapest over three years, so it seemed a logical choice.

Roll forward three years, and I’ve moved house, but due to starting the moving process while in my tie-in period, I’ve remained with Barclays. In retrospect this may not have been a bad deal, as we have a deal that is fully flexible (we can overpay as much as we want and settle at any time), yet due to the changes in the mortgage market since the credit crunch it is more competitive than most other inflexible mortgage deals.

The biggest downside so far however seems to be that Barclays are somewhat disorganised. When we moved, we needed more money, so Barclays continued our existing mortgage, and added a second mortgage, (which appears on the paperwork as a home improvement loan) though both mortgages are treated as one. This means that when a mortgage payment is taken, they actually take two payments – one for each mortgage. In itself, that’s not a problem, until things go wrong.

When moving house, we also needed to change the account the mortgage payment was taken from. So Barclays send us a direct debit mandate, which we fill in with the new account details and send off. We hear nothing back. Mortgage payment date passes and no money is taken, so I get on the phone.

At this point I should mention that the menu structure on Barclays phone system is terrible, and it takes 2 minutes to get to the point where you can select to speak to a real person about a general enquiry. Then you go in a queue, where you generally wait for about 20 minutes, though my record so far is 50 minutes.

Once I speak to a person, I ask what’s happened to the payment, where I am told that in the month a payment change is made, they won’t try and take a payment, and you have to make it yourself. There had been no mention of this on the letter that came with the direct debit mandate. However I was able to pay over the phone (two separate payments – one for each mortgage).

One month later, and again no payment is taken. This time we get a letter from Barclays saying that the payment was refused, with the reason “No instruction”. So I go through the rigmarole of phoning them up, going through the frustrating menus and joining the queue. The person I end up speaking to tells me that the payment ws declined. I knew that from the letter. Did they get the direct debit mandate I ask? He has a dig around on the system, confirms that they did, and verifies the account number with me. His suggestion is to take the two payments manually for now, and wait and see what hapens next month. I remain doubtful.

One month later, and we get a letter saying the payment was refused for the reason “No instruction”. Phone, frustrating menu, queue. This time the person who answers asks me if the letter came with a direct debit mandate. “Yes it did” I reply, “but you’ve already had one”. Her reply amazes me. “I wouldn’t send it to us. I’d just take it to your bank”. It sounds like Barclays staff don’t trust Barclays to do the right thing with paperwork. So we start to take the payments to pay the mortgage manually for this month. Again this needs to be done twice – once for each mortgage. However, as soon as the first payment is finished, the line goes dead. This means phoning, and menus and queuing again.

When I get through (after only 10 minutes this time), the (different) person I speak to tells me that they have a problem with their phones, where they just drop calls at random! I explain that I need to make the second payment manually. He asks me if I’ve been told what happens in this case. “What do you mean?” I ask. I’ve done this for five payments now, and nobody’s said anything. He explains that rather than actually processing any payment there and then, what they actually do is write the payment details down, and at the end of the day these details get passed to a team leader, who processes the payments the next day. As a result I have to go through all the payment details again.

I should point out that the staff are always polite on the phone. Which is surprising. I’d hate to have their job…

(…which makes it more amusing that at the time of writing the ads on this page are for careers at Barclays)


TiVo upgrade

I've been a TiVo owner since 2002, and I still think it's as fantastic a piece of hardware now as I did six years ago. It's incredibly easy to use, and has been 100% reliable. However, over Christmas I decided I'd record plenty of films, for later viewing. The only problem was that we couldn't watch them as fast as they were recorded, and some films were automatically deleted to make room for new films. I'd thought about upgrading the TiVo before, but since I bought the iMac I've had a spare 250GB drive lying around…

I'd read about upgrading the TiVo several times over the years, and the upgrader's bible has always been the Hinsdale howto. I also came across Steve Conrad's site, where he talks about his TiVo upgrade experiences, the best bit being that as he uses a UK TiVo he'd have the same options as me. Conveniently he also links to all the downloads you need, and he covers the kernel upgrade (to address more than 137GB of disk space).

The hardest part of the whole process is probably getting the disks you need ready. If you're a Windows user, you don't have a simple way of burning ISOs to a CD. Luckily the Mac does, so that wasn't difficult for me. What was difficult was finding a Windows machine with a floppy drive, to create a bootable disk with diskpart on it. As I had an old machine with parallel ATA connectors, a CD-ROM drive, and a floppy drive handy, I was ready to go.

Steve Conrad's guide covers backing up your TiVo drive to another drive, then restoring it to the new drive, but I didn't want to bother with that, preferring to copy direct from the TiVo drive to the new drive. Also I wanted to preserve my recordings.

First, I disconnected any hard drives already in the machine, and connected the CD-ROM drive as primary master. Then I removed the hard disk from the TiVo (which was really easy), and connected it as secondary master. Set the BIOS to boot from CD, let it boot, then scroll back to see how large the detected drive is. In my case it had been detected as 10MB, so it needed unlocking with diskpart.

Power off the system, and boot from floppy. Then run diskpart/PermUnlock 2. Answer yes to all the questions. Then power off the machine.

Connect the new drive as secondary slave (leaving the TiVo drive as secondary master), and boot from CD. Now I had to figure out what options to use to copy the data between drives, while retaining the recordings, and adjusting the amount of swap space too.

Steve Conrad's guide mentions that you should use the restore command rather than mfsrestore, so I investigated that, and found that restore appears to simply be a link to mfsrestore, so I don't think it matters which you use.

Both guides are unanimous that the TiVo should be backed up with mfsbackup -Tao – /dev/hdc which would read all the data from the drive and send it to stdout. I plumped for mfsrestore -r 4  -s 300 -xzpi – /dev/hdd for the restore, which would be read from stdin. The -r should remove a limitation that I don't actually need to worry about at 274GB, but I put it in anyway. The -s 300 should expand the swap to 300MB, to prevent memory issues when there are large amounts of recordings. This meant it was simply a case of connecting the commands together with a pipe, giving me:

mfsbackup -Tao – /dev/hdc | mfsrestore -r 4  -s 300 -xzpi – /dev/hdd

Then I left it to do its stuff. My estimates were that it would take around 3 hours, but I simply left it overnight. The copy completed successfully.

The next step was to upgrade the kernel. I didn't need to worry about taking a backup of the existing kerel, as I still had the original TiVo drive, so I simply ran copykern and selected option 1 for my type of TiVo.

Then power it all down, put the new hard drive in the TiVo, ad power it all up. Everything worked like a charm, and a check on the system information showed I now had 299 hours, 58 minutes of recording space. I think that should be enough! As an added bonus the new hard drive is quieter than the old drive.

If you have a TiVo and have thought about upgrading, just do it! It's easier than you might think.