Whilst certainly not as easy as it once was, it’s still possible to reclaim substantial amounts of money you may have paid in unfair bank charges, such as penalties for exceeding your overdraft limit or bounced cheques – especially if you’re suffering with financial hardship.
The reclaiming process is both free and easy, meaning that, though nothing is guaranteed, you’ve got nothing to lose by attempting to get some of your money back. Whatever your situation, it’s always worth writing to your bank and asking that charges be repaid. After all, the worst that can happen is that you’re refused. If your bank does reject your appeal and you feel you’ve been dealt with unfairly you can ask the Financial Services Ombudsman (FSO) to step in and look at your case.
Will The Ombudsman Investigate My Case?
There are three different criteria the Ombudsman use to decide whether or not they’ll investigate a case. If the scenario you find yourself in matches anyone of those listed below, you could be eligible for help;
- You’re in financial hardship.
- The charges are excessive.
- You’re charges are leading to further charges, creating a vicious cycle.
If you’re unsure if any of the above applies to you, check out the guidelines below;
To be seen as being in the financial hardship by the ombudsman you’ll need to be able to show evidence (preferably with recourse to bank statements or other documentation) that at least two items on the following list could describe your situation.
- You frequently exceed your overdraft.
- You struggle to pay for basic necessities, such as food and heating.
- Your cost of living has gone up due to illness or disability.
- You’re under a debt management plan, individual voluntary agreement, debt relief order or in the process of going bankrupt.
- A change in circumstances has seen your income drop considerably.
- A significant amount of your income is being spent on charges.
- Your depending on credit to meet your basic living costs.
- Payments made from your account are regularly returned owing to a lack of funds.
(Note that, if you’re looking to reclaim charges that were handed down to you in the past – more on which down the article – the conditions of hardship need only apply to the time when you were charged.)
There are no cast iron rules as to what might be deemed excessive, but charges of as much as £35 are still not uncommon for going beyond your overdraft limit. If you only went over your limit by a few pence or so it would be easy enough to argue that such a charge is excessive.
A Cycle of Charges
This tends to occur as part of the parcel of financial hardship as, due to a lack of available funds, you’re unable to pay off existing charges before incurring new ones. Indeed, these charges may well cause you, directly or indirectly, to rack up fresh ones, thus creating an ongoing, constantly growing problem. If you can show that this is the case, the ombudsman will be able to look at your case.
How Much Am I Eligible To Claim Back?
If you feel your case is a strong one, your next step should be to figure out how much your claim should be for. Bear in mind that you can claim for charges that you were hit with in the past (in general, you can go back as far as six years) and that you can claim for charges from more than one account, or from more than one bank.
In addition you can still claim if the account in question is closed and even if you’ve received compensation for bank charges in the past, you can claim against any new penalty payments you might incur.
Finally, you should bear in mind that you are allowed to add interest to the amount you believe yourself to be owed and should include this in the amount you ask for. If you were going to go the court over charges and were to win you would get a flat rate of 8% interest on top of your compensation for every year you had to wait. Though applying for compensation through the ombudsman is not the same, you could use this figure as a guide in deciding how much you want to claim for. If you wish you could ask for more.
Remember, there’s a good chance that the bank will look to settle the case by offering a partial settlement. One way they might go about doing this is offering you compensation but without interest. Obviously, if you don’t demand interest in the first place this won’t happen, so it can pay to push for as much as reasonably possible.
What Is The Claims Process?
When it comes to actually making your claim, even if you meet the criteria to have your case looked at by the ombudsman, you should first write to you bank. Clearly explain your situation, giving details of the charges and how they’ve affected you. Make it clear that you will go to the ombudsman if they refuse to deal with you fairly. Any documentation you can provide to verify your story can help speed up the process, be it a bank statement or, if for example you lost your job, a copy of your p45.
When you hear back from your bank you may find that they are willing to offer you some, or even all of what you’ve asked for. If you’re offered less than you feel fair, you should treat your claim as an ongoing negation. Naturally, the bank will offer you the lowest settlement they think you might accept. Try contacting them again and explaining why you believe you can only settle for a higher sum. It could well be in their interest to give you what you’re asking for rather then letting things drag on.
By the same token, many banks will have a policy of automatically rejecting all requests. This is simply a tactic to try and put you off pursuing your claim further. You need to demonstrate that you won’t be deterred by calling them up and sending another letter. Re-emphasise the fact that you’ll take your case to the ombudsman if need be.
In some cases the bank will not offer you compensation but will instead take other action to try and help you out of your situation. They might arrange a payment plan for money you owe, or offer to stop any further charges being applied to your account. Alternatively, they might offer compensation but require that you use the money to pay debts that you have with the bank. Again, if you’re not happy with this you can try and negotiate or if that fails go to the ombudsman.
Going to the Ombudsman
If you have failed to reach a satisfactory arrangement with the bank, you can then complain to the ombudsman. You must have first written to your bank before you can do this and, unless you have received a rejection letter, you need to wait eight weeks from the date that you first write to your bank before going to the FSO.
To complain, you need to obtain the relevant form from the FSO. This can be done from their website (http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/), or by calling them on 0800 023 4567.
Though you do not need to make your response overly emotive, you do need to go into details about your specific details of your personal experience regarding the unfairness/hardship you’ve faced whilst dealing with the bank charges in question. When you return the from make sure you include copies of your correspondence with the bank.
Once you’ve returned the form, your case is in the hands of the ombudsman and they will contact you if they secure an offer of compensation from your bank or if they decide to launch a fully fledged investigation (though, this is comparatively rare.) Bear in mind that there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive an offer of money, as the ombudsman may well conclude that another form of help (as per the examples given up the article) might be more appropriate.
About half or cases are concluded within three months, but some will take longer so you may need to be patient. You certainly shouldn’t expect instant results.
Does Claiming Affect My Credit Rating?
Claiming compensation for bank charges has no effect on your credit score in of itself. However, it could affect your relationship with your bank and the repercussions might effect your financial freedom, or even your credit score.
For instance, if you claim due to being in financial hardship you could be switched onto a basic account which can restrict the way you use your money. If you’re put on a payment plan to help you manage your account in the wake of making a claim, be aware that this could bring down your credit score.