Questions of Cash: The Independent

Q.  We corresponded in 2008 regarding excessive bank charges, which you featured under the heading ‘I was broke but my bank still charged me’.  Guess what, I’m broke again!  I have lost income during the recession, this has led to me being ill and I owe university fees.  When you took up my complaint, the legal action on excessive fees had just begun. I was suffering financial hardship at the time of the charges, but as this had eased by the time I made my claim, so the bank rejected my claim for a refund.  Following the Supreme Court decision finding in favour of the banks, are there grounds for a refund of charges if a person again suffers financial hardship?  RH, Hove.


A. Your bank, the RBS, explains: “If a customer’s circumstances change, or if they have additional information to support their financial hardship claim, then they should contact the bank for their situation to be reviewed.”  When we again contacted RBS on your behalf, it referred your claim to the Office of Fair Trading Hardship Team.  With help from Citizens Advice, you drew-up an income and expenditure statement to demonstrate the extent of your hardship.  The claim was then accepted.  As a result, RBS has now agreed to repay you £718 in charges, which covers about six years’ bank charges.


Q.  I am very upset with a transaction involving French Connection.  I purchased a dress for £35 from its outlet in Watford in February.  When I got home I realised it was a size too big.  So, 48 hours later, I returned to the store to exchange the dress for the correct size. I was charged an extra £29 as the dress had gone up in price, despite the fact that I had the receipt to prove that I’d paid about half that cost two days earlier.  This is so unfair!  They don’t offer refunds either, so I was offered a credit note.  Can they do this? AH, London.


A.  As you made the error, there does not appear to be any obligation on French Connection to replace the goods for the price you paid.  However, French Connection has agreed to repay you the extra £29 you paid and is also giving you an additional £30 voucher as an apology for not treating you in line with its own policies.  The company says:French Connection Watford were of course wrong in asking you to pay more for the exchange than you had originally purchased the item for and we have notified the area manager responsible for the store, who will be re-training the staff in both company procedures and customer services.”


Q.  In November 2008 Shell Gas changed its bank details for residential customers.  I changed their ABN Amro account details with my own bank, IF, shortly afterwards and made several successful payments. However, I didn’t realise that I had the last two digits of their account number the wrong way round. In November 2009 I made my usual payment and got a reminder from Shell a month later to say it was still waiting for payment.  I only then discovered my error.  The amount involved is over £470 and all my bank will do is to ask ABN Amro to request its customer to make a repayment, which they have not done.  AC, Kinross.


A.  We began our enquiries by contact IF, which is part of the Lloyds Banking Group.  Its spokeswoman confirmed your explanation of what had happened.  “The standing order was set-up incorrectly by the customer. We are making payments as he has directed to us via the SO he set-up.”  It assumes that someone at the destination bank was manually correcting the error, but this ceased to happen in November last year – presumably when a staff member left or changed jobs.  “The money may be in a wrong account, or it may be in a suspense account awaiting correction,” added the spokeswoman.  “In any event – it has left us and is with ABN.  The customer has advised my colleague that ABN won’t speak to him to help. But they must speak to him.”  We then contacted ABN Amro, which carried out an investigation and then advised us that the Shell account was one of those affected by the acquisition by RBS of much of the ABN business.  At that point we took up the matter with RBS, by which time several weeks had passed.  RBS located the funds the day after we reported the matter to them – but, by an amazing coincidence, apparently independently of us raising it with them.  It has now transferred the payment to the correct Shell account.

Q.  I purchased a laptop from, with a warranty that allowed me to receive a new computer at the end of the three years for free.   I have been told I cannot have the replacement machine because I did not fill-in the claim form online.  However I made my purchase via the telephone and at no time was I told that I needed to fill-in the information online.   None of the documentation makes reference to this.  I would not have purchased my laptop from this company if the deal did not include the replacement machine. TG, by email.


A.  We raised your complaint with Laptops Direct at the end of last year.  Since then we have repeatedly requested a response from the company, which explained that delays had been caused by staff illness and the thoroughness of its own investigation.  It has now responded – rejecting the claim.  Laptops Direct says: “All of our customers who were entitled to the three year replacement scheme were to fill-in the online form, which was available on all our websites at the time of purchase, and submit this information to the insurance company Fortis.”  As the warranty was underwritten by an insurer, the transaction is a matter that can be investigated by the Financial Ombudsman Service.  We strongly recommend that you refer the matter to them for adjudication.

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