BANK customers are being slapped with fees up to 400 per cent higher than five years ago, a Post comparison of charges shows. The cost of several popular services and transactions at three major banks - such as replacing a lost credit card or stopping payment on a cheque - has soared by up to 40 times the rate of inflation. Consumer Council trade practices spokesman Ron Cameron said low-income earners were the worst affected as banks covered the cost of increasingly competitive interest rates by charging higher fees. Obtaining a letter of reference cost $150 from HSBC in 1995; it is now 33 per cent more, or $200, for the same document. At Standard Chartered, the fee has risen from $200 to as much as $400, depending on which accounts a customer has. The penalty for a bounced cheque five years ago was $70 at HSBC and $80 at Standard Chartered. Both charge $100, a rise of up to 42 per cent. Citibank has doubled the cost of issuing a gift cheque, from $5 to $10, and Standard Chartered has raised the cost of retrieving an old credit card statement from $10 to $50, a 400 per cent increase. Inflation in the same five-year period, including a forecast rise this year, is 9.8 per cent. Consumer Council spokesman Kenneth So Wai-sang said the watchdog's main priority was that charges should not be hidden. 'It's not that we're not concerned [about increases], but the important thing is transparency so customers know what they will pay and can shop around.' Mr Cameron said deregulation of interest rates meant banks made less money on loans and paid more to customers with deposits. Fees were a way of topping up the difference. He said long-term depositors had made the most so far of competitive interest rates, but that relief for current account holders was expected this year with the deregulation of short-term interest rates. 'The council's main concern is that consumers are fully informed.' Fees for some bank services have remained the same since 1995. HSBC still charges $70 to certify an account balance and $1,000 to apply for a home loan. Standard Chartered still gives customers free cheque books, and Citibank still charges $80 if a cheque bounces. HSBC spokeswoman Vinh Tran said many charges had increased only slightly, and 'the majority' had not changed. Fees that had risen significantly 'have just been changed to reflect the cost of providing the service'. She declined to explain. Citibank marketing vice-president Ada Tam Lai-chun said prices were not raised across the board every year with inflation. 'There are lots of factors - it's based on inflation and how complicated the procedure [of providing a service] is, and we look at what the market's doing. Most of our services are free . . . our objective is to give customers convenience.' Standard Chartered did not respond to requests for comment.