Questions of Cash: January 2015

Q.  I left the UK permanently in June 2014 to live in Ireland. I didn’t close my NatWest bank account. None of my post was re-directed to my overseas address. My account was last used on 15 August and it inadvertently went into an unauthorized overdraft of £6.52, including interest, after I was charged for using my debit card abroad. I realized this only when I recently viewed my account online. Additional penalty charges were added to that initial charge because I did not have overdraft authorisation.  The result was that the unauthorised overdraft grew to £264.52, comprised of various charges.  I submitted an online complaint to Nat West expressing my disbelief at the charges they had put onto my account. I offered to pay 20 per cent of the charges – £51.60.  NatWest rejected my complaint and offer. They are looking for the full amount. NatWest stated they ‘hoped it would not be necessary (for me) to contact the ombudsman’.  I recently wrote to the branch of NatWest where I opened the account instructing them to immediately close the account and telling them I had left the UK permanently as I had transferred the £6.52, the initial overdraft amount, to the account.  I actually transferred £9.01, to allow for some currency conversion costs. The overdraft amount on my account is now £255.51, following the imposition of £258 charges for overdrawing the account.  I find the charges grossly unfair and disproportionate and they are placing me under considerable financial hardship.  GM, Carlow, Ireland.

A  Technically you are in the wrong, as you should have formally closed the account and ensured that you cleared any amount owing to the bank.  But we are sympathetic, given the size of the penalty charges.  Your situation illustrates how unauthorised overdraft penalty charges accumulate at an awful rate.  NatWest points out that these charges were imposed in line with the published fees on its current accounts.  But the good news is that NatWest has agreed to cancel the charges.  A spokeswoman explains: “We apologise to [the reader] that he discovered fees on his account that he didn’t expect. When he left the UK his account was in overdraft for some months and unfortunately we weren’t made aware that he had moved. Given the circumstances we have refunded all fees and closed his account.”

Q.  I owe money to a company called Veolia.  I am now receiving demands for payment from Buchanan, Clark and Wells, a debt collection company.  I am not convinced that I owe as much as they say.  And I am being charged an administration fee and interest on the loan.  Is there anything you can do?  RR, by email.

A.  We have been in contact with Buchanan, Clark and Wells and with Veolia – but with limited success.  Mick Mills of Buchanan, Clark and Wells said: “I am unable to discuss the details of the case with you without [the reader’s] express permission.  However, in this case, I can say that in all dealings with us, [the reader] has engaged constructively.  I would also clarify that the issue is not that the debt is unknown to her, but that [the reader] has, with full justification within her rights, requested details of relevant bills, etc.  She is also querying the charges applied.  As a highly ethical collections agency, we have already requested this further information from our client and continue to liaise directly with [the reader] to answer her enquiries and to set up an appropriate payment plan.  We are grateful to [the reader] for engaging in dialogue with us as this is the only means through which clarity and agreement can be achieved. Media such as your own can also be highly beneficial in advising anyone who finds themselves in a situation of debt collection to respond to contact and engage in discussion, as this provides a channel through which any grievance can, and will, be aired. Under our strict terms of operation, any account which is subject to a live dispute is immediately put on hold while investigation is carried out. This process is currently underway and I am confident that the full facts of the case will be identified and agreement reached with [the reader].  Should [the reader] decide to authorise the full details of the case to be shared with you, we will be happy to comply.  However, in this case, I trust that an amicable solution can be reached through ongoing discussions.”

We then contacted Veolia, a utilities company, providing your explicit email authorisation for the company to discuss the debt with us.  However, Veolia insisted that it could only act on this if was in written format and signed.  You tell us that you provided this to Veolia by letter. Veolia says it has never received it.  You have not replied to our latest communications, while Veolia stands by its position of not discussing with us your account without signed consent from you, which it still insists it has not received.

Q.  I live in Thailand and last summer made a number of purchases that included VAT, on which I am due a refund.  The agents of HM Revenue & Customs at Heathrow Airport are Travelex, which promised me a refund to my credit card within six weeks of 1 July.  I am due £700 on the purchase of a bike and jewellery.  Travelex has failed to provide me with any documentation to confirm that a completed VAT refund application has been made; its estimate of how long it will take to process the refund is clearly whimsical; and it has failed to take responsibility for the assurances it gave me. ML, Thailand.

A. We have contacted Travelex repeatedly.  While Travelex did contact us one occasion to assure us that the matter was being resolved,we have been unable to obtain a statement from the company to explain what went wrong.  You tell us that you have now received the VAT refund in full.

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