Don't appeal bank charges decision, experts tell banks

25 April 2008 / by Rachael Stiles
There is much speculation that the banks will appeal the court's decision yesterday about bank charges being subject to scrutiny, but experts warn that this would not be in the best interest of the consumer.

The decision by the high court yesterday ruled that bank charges are subject to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulation (UTCCR) 1999, and therefore the banks could be forced to pay back millions of pounds in overdraft penalties.

Campaigners are seeing the result as a major triumph for the consumer, and it is hoped that the Office of Fair Trading will soon be allowed to set the bar for bank charges, as previously banks were charging 'unfair' fees of up to £39 for unauthorised overdrafts and bounced cheques.

The banks, however, have suggested that they will contest the decision, which, experts argue, will only cause further delays for the same result, while consumers wait up to another year to be able to claim their money back.

Teresa Perchard, director of policy at the Citizens Advice Bureau, said that following yesterday's decision, "it would be in all consumers' best interests for both sides to come to an agreement instead of letting the case drag on through the courts.

"Until the case is resolved complaints remain on hold and charges continue to be applied to accounts, unless a customer is considered to be in financial hardship. This is why it's important that people in difficulties let their bank know and that banks take a broad view of what financial hardship means.

Nathan Gladwell from Chiltern said that "Taking expensive charges from customers who had exceeded their credit limits and were already in trouble only perpetuates the problem of debt.

"These people needed help and guidance from banks, not draconian punishment, and these excessive fees meant they would have less money each month to cover their living costs - putting further strain on already overstretched budgets."

He called the decision a "massive victory", for the consumer, but is wary that the banks will retaliate by putting an end to free banking.

If the next stage of the saga also rules in favour of the Office of Fair Trading and opens the floodgates for consumers to reclaim unfair bank charges, Which? estimates that banks will have to return an estimated £9 billion.

© Fair Investment Company Ltd