We’ve been using PayPal for a while. It’s lived up to expectations as an easy way for not-for-profit organisations to process membership fees and donations. Until now.
This month we found access to our money restricted unless we provided our company registration number and uploaded a copy of the registration document. We can’t do that. We’re not a registered company. Or even a registered charity. We’re a registered political party. We supplied details of our registration with the Electoral Commission. We had no feedback, beyond an automatic reminder that the issue is still outstanding. A fortnight on, we submitted more evidence. Still nothing. Not even “computer says no”.
After a little research, we find we’re not alone. On Trustpilot, 68% of the reviews of PayPal are bad. Recent headings range from “PayPal does not pay and is not your pal” to “Swimming with sharks is less risky”. Many small community groups have been lured into the PayPal web only to find their accounts suddenly limited for no stated reason and with no way for them to restore access. Amounts involved range from hundreds of pounds to thousands. Those who need that money to pay for time-bound events – conferences, public inquiries, even disaster relief – are at their wits’ end. Phone calls reportedly lead to a front office person who can sympathise and pass on the message, while the back office folks remain anonymous, inaccessible and unresponsive. The so-called ‘chat facility’ appears to be an algorithm that refers users back to the help page they just left, the page lacking the answer sought, an endless loop of doom. Those whose money is trapped forever in a system not set up to handle the organisational complexity of the real world may feel it’s time for Robin Hood to appear and even the score.
One thing we’re still allowed to do is refund the money sitting in our account. Having done that – and asked the members affected to pay by an alternative means – we’ve stopped using PayPal. Not out of malice, but because we aren’t bound to tolerate the incompetent. In the field of government, the remedy we seek is to take away their power. In the field of business, the remedy we can already apply is to take away our custom. We support an economy where financial institutions exist to make life easier for account holders. Not the other way round.