June 29, 2005
Student wins claim over bank charges
By Simon de Bruxelles
Consumer groups welcome a groundbreaking victory that could lead to cheaper fees
A LAW student is expected to be awarded hundreds of pounds in compensation against his bank after claiming that the £32 that it charged him every time he went overdrawn was unfair.
Consumer groups and banking watchdogs yesterday welcomed the victory and said that it could open the way for thousands of similar claims and could help to bring about changes in costs to bank customers. Stephen Hone, 29, brought the civil court action against the Abbey bank, on the grounds that the penalty was disproportionate to the costs incurred by the bank.
He claims that the charges are in breach of the Unfair Terms of the Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999, which state that a consumer should not pay a disproportionately high amount of compensation if he or she fails to meet an obligation.
In his claim, entered at Plymouth County Court in Devon, Mr Hone said that he had been charged a total of £2,000 over six years.
He wrote: Your charges do not reflect any actual or real loss; instead, they appear to represent a lucrative profit-making scheme.
Although Mr Hone filed the claim last month, Abbey failed to submit a defence and the student won by default. District Judge Andrew Moon said that he had no option but to find in Mr Hones favour. He said: The defendant must pay the claimant an amount which the court will decide, and costs.
Although the case was won on a technicality, Eddy Weatherill, of the Independent Banking Advisory Service, said: Its great news . . . and something thats been accepted by consumers for too long. These charges do not reflect the costs banks incur in any way whatsoever.
I hope that others will follow his example.
The precise amount of compensation to which Mr Hone, a father-of-three, is entitled, will be decided at a hearing next month.
The case centres around the penalty fee of £32 imposed when direct debit payments are refused. Each time it happened an automated letter was sent to Mr Hone informing him of the charge. It is the first time a customer has won such a claim relating to direct debit charges.
A spokesman for Abbey said that it had been unable to defend the case because it had not been notified of the court date. The banking charges which Abbey levies are legitimate and proportionate to the administrative costs incurred by the bank for situations such as direct debits, he said.
Lloyds TSB: 18.2%
Abbey: 28.7% plus £30 per transaction (t/a) and £32 per direct debit/standing order
Barclays: 27.5% plus £25 per t/a
NatWest: 29.69% plus £28 over-limit fee, £30 per t/a
RBS: 29.84% plus £28 overlimit fee, £30 per t/a, capped at £90 a month
Lloyds TSB: 29.8% plus £25 per day
HSBC: 14.8% plus £20 for exceeding agreed overdraft