Questions of Cash: The Independent

Q. I have a NatWest current account that I have used for a few months, from which my car insurance direct debit was paid out each month. When I cancelled my insurance I stopped using the account, which went overdrawn by around £44. I forgot about this as I have never used the account since and did not receive any statements. The account has now incurred £6 per day charges and I now owe them £750, and this is going up each day. I cannot afford to pay this. The charges seem very unfair for going overdrawn by such a small amount. I am also concerned that the debt will have a knock-on effect on my creditworthiness on my business account, which is also with NatWest. JR, Sale.

A. As this column has remarked on many occasions, banks’ penalty charges on unauthorised overdrafts are often very high and can escalate to sizeable negative account balances in a short period of time. However, the onus is on customers to manage their accounts properly and you failed to do this. NatWest says that it has not received a complaint from you and wants you to raise the problem with it directly in the first instance. It also stresses that all customers are sent bank statements on a regular basis. As you say that you cannot afford to repay these penalty charges, we suggest you contact Citizens Advice to assist you in drawing-up an income and expenditure statement and then to reach agreement on a reasonable settlement with NatWest. The bank points out that NatWest and RBS offer systems of text-based alerts to assist customers to avoid accidently going overdrawn.

Q. I have banked with Nat West since I started in business as a sole trader over 15 years ago. Since then my business has grown substantially, with the bank supporting us throughout with a business overdraft facility. As I am in the construction industry, there are sometimes cash flow problems which involve higher short-term demands. These have been supported by NatWest through temporary increases in overdraft limits, or, on occasion, short-term loan facilities. About 18 months ago we asked our relationship manager to increase our overdraft from £75,000 to £100,000 to help our cash flow. He increased the overdraft for six months and it became obvious that we required this on a continuing basis. Our cash flow situation has not changed and we asked for the higher overdraft to be renewed on a permanent basis. The temporary facility ended in April 2011. Despite NatWest having a fixed and floating charge over the assets of the company – with a value of £235,185 – and a second charge on my house and other securities – which are valued at £2.7m – NatWest has refused to approve the continuation of a £100,000 overdraft and £235,000 long term loan. The security seems to me to be more than adequate. I even offered to borrow £40,000 on a mortgage on my home to reduce cash flow requirements. I feel that NatWest is not willing to support small businesses such as mine. NS, Birmingham.

A. We have had several complaints in recent months by people with overdrafts on individual and business accounts on which banks seem to have begun taking a tougher line and several of these criticisms have related to the NatWest division of RBS. With regard to your complaint, a spokesman for RBS says: We’ve tried to help the customer over a number of years through temporary credit extensions, but they have consistently failed to fulfil their commitments to the bank. Unfortunately this has reached unacceptable levels and leaves us with no alternative other than to ask them to seek alternative banking arrangements.” You tell us that you have now reached an acceptable arrangement on lending terms with the Lloyds Group and that you are moving your accounts to them.

Q. After a sale of a house to me had been agreed, the local branch of an estate  agency failed to advise me of an offer made by another party, which was accepted. I was then wrongly advised on several occasions that I could not make a further
offer.  The agency’s manager admitted to staff having made mistakes for which they had been disciplined. But the head office denied this and blamed me for the problem. I eventually bought the home, but had to pay even more in the end. I made a formal complaint to the Property Ombudsman. I was told that his terms of reference only allowed him to investigate one of my four complaints. This he upheld and awarded me a mere £50. This was paltry compared to the £4,500 extra I had to pay because of the agency’s errors. I have refused to accept this as a matter of principle. PL, Cheshire.

A. The Property Ombudsman is an industry scheme and not an independent body, backed by statute, as is the case with the Financial Ombudsman. Maurice Hardy was Property Ombudsman when you lodged your complaint, but Christopher Hamer has since taken over the role. Mr Hamer says: “I should explain that I am not a regulator of the estate agency industry or a consumer guardian. It is my role to review complaints made by members of the public against member agents on an impartial basis, based on the evidence that is submitted to me, considering an agent’s obligations against the requirements of the [The Property Ombudsman] Code of Practice. I am able to provide redress where I am satisfied that the actions of the member agent, in respect of the complaints that I have supported, have disadvantaged a complainant…. The reasoning for my predecessor’s decision was fully explained within the review of 8 March 2005… I do not consider that it is appropriate for me to now comment on the details of a case that was closed over six years ago.”

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