Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Government to End Bank Charges Litigation?

With the government now such a significant shareholder in so many UK current account providers, it could save taxpayer's money and boost the (alleged) victims' finances by requiring an end to the expensive saga of bank charges litigation, and the refund of fees that the OFT alleges are excessive.

Note the finding by Mr Justice Smith (at para 415) that "information provided by the Banks suggests that in 2006 [alone] the Banks between them received £2.5 billion from Relevant Charges on an average daily unarranged overdraft balance of £0.6 billion."

Another judgment in the saga is due tomorrow morning (21 January 2009) at 10 a.m.

Update: the 21 January judgment held that only certain NatWest terms are capable of being a penalty. Whether or not they do constitute a penalty is phase two of the saga, and phase one is yet to conclude.

Phase one is held up because the banks appealed the first instance decision that both their current terms and their historic terms are capable of being assessed for fairness under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations. Judgment on the current terms is expected soon, whereupon the banks' appeal in relation to the historic terms will begin.

Of course, the Court of Appeal's decision on both sets of terms could go to the House of Lords, meaning several years' further delay.

Meanwhile, the lower courts won't hear cases pending the outcome of the higher court proceedings. And the Financial Services Authority is also preventing anyone getting their money back via the banks' own complaints procedures. Similarly, the Financial Ombudsman Service (where complaints to the banks utlimately go) won't process complaints until the court proceedings are over.

This is no way to treat the nation's consumers, especially when the consumers' own watchdog is involved.

If the banks won't act fairly on their own initiative, then it must be part of the government's "fiscal stimulus" package, to insist that all banks that took bail-out money immediately refund the element of bank charges which the OFT has complained are excessive.
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