I just thought this story about how the Consumer Action Group was started was quite interesting – read on and judge for yourselves.
One day in 2004 I found that my career was going nowhere and I decided to change job.
I found a job that would enable me to follow a career path that was better suited to me and more ‘future proof’. It did, however mean a small cut in pay.
To cut a long story short, when I arrived at my new job, I found that although the contract of employment stated that I would be paid on a given date by ‘direct transfer’ the translation into English went along these lines:
“We’ll pay you around that date if we can be bothered and by cheque – usually on a Friday afternoon at 17.30, so no hope of receiving the money for another 4-5 days.”
I had, of course, upon receipt of my new employment contract, changed my Direct Debits and Standing Orders to leave my account a couple of days after the new pay day.
This meant that I was charged £32 for each of the 12 Direct Debits I had set up on my account – as the bank simply refused to cancel them – I was charged £15 for a late payment to a loan I had at the time – I was charged £30 for NOT paying a Standing Order for £3 to the Children’s Society, and £32 a few days later for paying it. And the £20 fine for not paying my Barclaycard on time as well.
I mentioned this to my new employer who replied “tell them you’re not paying!”.
Very constructive. For a variety of reasons I left this firm after a short period – just before they went bust in fact – hence I couldn’t go after them for the money.
The £481 taken from my account of course left me £461 down the following month – again this caused a host of DD’s to bounce etc… including one to my partners account for ‘housekeeping’, and for taking the kids out etc… In turn this meant that DD’s from her account were ‘bouncing’ too.
Over a period of 13 months, Abbey took nearly £5000 from our accounts, and the loan company about £500.
The final straw came once I had borrowed, saved(???) and generally fought to pay off these charges so we could get back on our feet.
My eldest daughter needed new shoes (their feet grow fast you know), and of course when I checked my balance it seemed Abbey (despite my pleading with them, begging, and trying a variety of ways to stop the charges and/or Direct Debit payments etc…) STILL wanted a final £120. So no shoes for my little girl then. So long as the shareholders are happy – that’s all that matters.
Again, although I knew the form by now, I phoned them, and asked that they do not take it – could they not see that I have struggled hard to pay their charges in the past and was making a HUGE effort to get back on my feet?
No, of course not. They wanted cash and didn’t care if people got hurt in the pursuit of it.
I told the lady on the phone, politely, that I WOULD be getting that money back, and not just that either – everything they had ever taken from me – somehow!
At the same time, I was being harassed by the loan company – 6-7 phone calls a day and a letter from them every other day. I went to see them in their branch – they suggested taking a secured loan to pay of the existing loan (of course they did) – They threatened legal action unless “I do SOMETHING” – I reluctantly completed the Secured Loan application form and was told it would be processed. I was told by their adviser not to worry about paying the existing loan payment as a note would be made on the account about the outstanding loan application.
I continued to be harassed by the loan firm – the people on the phone seemed to have no idea about a secured loan application. They promised to update their records so I wouldn’t be called any more. In fact, they all did – all 6-7 phone calls per day.
After 7 weeks, I was told that due to the charges incurred for late payments on the account my application for the secured loan had been turned down (thank God for small mercy).
I wrote to the company and informed them that now I had incurred extra interest due to being informed NOT to pay the monthly payment – AND, of course charged a further 30 odd quid.
After 8 weeks, I had heard nothing, and so I wrote to the Financial Ombudsman. They wrote to the loan company and duly, I received a reply stating that they had read my letter (in which I had a line pertaining to the legalities of forcing me into more debt – I had no idea of the legal position at the time and this was pure guesswork) and in light of the ‘misunderstanding’ they would credit the account with the full amount taken in charges over my period of difficulty.
Well, that was a turn up for the books. I must have hit the nail on the head!
I re-read the letter that I had sent them, and the only bit I found that could have been responsible for them returning the charges was the line about the legalities of such charging/forcing into debt. I started to research the law regarding penalties.
The letter from the loan company asked me to inform the Ombudsman that the matter was closed.
I didn’t. Not yet.
The loan company phoned me. I said that I wasn’t prepared to do so unless they wiped the WHOLE debt out – about £500. I was pushing my luck, and I had no real basis for doing so apart from being mis-informed about the payments – i.e. I was told NOT to pay it and was nearly forced into securing a loan against our home.
They replied that they would ‘knock off’ an extra £50 as a ‘goodwill’ gesture.
I refused. They ‘knocked-off’ an extra £100.
I was on a roll.
Eventually they agreed to write the whole debt off and to remove the records of late payments with the credit agencies if I sent them a cheque for £100!!
Seven weeks later, I received another phone call from them asking when the cheque would be sent. I told them it would be in another 2 weeks time. They asked why it would be taking so long.
I told them that they had taken 9 weeks to reply to my letter – I would be taking the same amount of time to reply to theirs.
I sent the cheque.
I heard no more from them.
By this time I had found lots of case law where punitive charges were not upheld for a breach of contract.
I wrote to Abbey asking a full refund of the charges.
They refused. I took action through the county court.
They acknowledged my claim, and eventually (at the last minute allowed) entered a defence, claiming that their charges were legal and a true reflection of their costs.
Shortly after this, I received a letter from an externally appointed solicitors firm saying, in essence, “stop suing us and we will agree not to pursue you for our legal costs.”
I replied stating that it was extremely unlikely I would lose, and therefore not liable for their costs, and that in the unlikely event that I did lose, it would have to be an extreme case for a judge to award them costs as the amount was less than £5000 and therefore likely to be heard in the Small Claim Court.
I also told them that if they wrote off my overdraft (the exact amount they had charged me) and sent me a cheque for my court costs so far, that I would then stop suing them.
The next letter from their appointed solicitor agreed to this and requested confidentiality. I refused unless they were intending to pay for this extra ‘service’ that I would be providing their client. They refused and they did not mention the condifentiality again.
A week later, I received a cheque for the full court costs and a letter explaining that my account had been closed.
We then started legal action for my partner – Abbey settled out of court for the full amount claimed plus interest and the court costs incurred so far.
I was then featured in the Money section of the Guardian newspaper and on BBC2’s ‘Working Lunch’.
I was inundated with emails from people in a similar position, and soon realised that this was abuse on a national scale.
I, and a like minded individual (BankFodder to forum users), then started this site to bring this information to the masses and with a mission to bring down this unlawful charging.
The Banks’ Abuse of the Credit Register
The banks have traded on their reputation for integrity to foist their penalty charges onto an acquiescent public. Most people consider that “Yes, I did overspend, therefore I do deserve this slap on the wrist. I’ll try harder not to get it wrong next time.”
But the truth is that these penalty charges are unlawful
UK High Street Banks profit out of the ordinary British bank customers sense of decency and moral responsibility. The ordinary British Bank Customer believes that this sense of moral decency is characterised by mutuality.
How wrong we all are.
Retaliatory action by the banks includes peremptory account closure, immediate demand for repayment of overdraft and defaulting the customer on the credit register. This creates a credit ‘Hell’ for the customer for the next 6 years.
A default on the credit register means that your life becomes extremely difficult for at least 6 years – and yet very often the default is placed on the register precisely because the customer could not pay the banks own unlawful charges!
You might ask yourself if there isn’t something fundamentally corrupt when a bank has the right to default a customer FOR ITS OWN PURPOSES without any court action and with no control.
If someone owed you money and didn’t pay you, could you go and put a default entry in the credit register? No of course you couldn’t. You would need a court judgment to do it.
The banks have a privileged access to the default register which they abuse. There is no scrutiny and there is no control.
When the scandal of the banks’ abuse of their dominant and fiduciary position is brought to an end, watch out for the defamation actions – Lots of them.