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ombudsman news

issue 140

March/April 2017

case studies showing how we work

In our plans for the year ahead, we explain how - with our ombudsmen's expertise and experience at the heart of our service - we're resolving the problems people bring to us with greater flexibility and pace, while keeping our focus on fairness. These case studies illustrate how we've helped consumers and businesses sort out and move forward from a range of concerns and complaints - from confusion about bank account switching, to the distress of repossession.

index of case studies

  • 140/1 - consumer can't get car insurance because of mix-up with chargeback and Cifas
  • 140/2 - consumer thinks packaged bank account with overdraft was mis-sold
  • 140/3 - consumer pays twice for car insurance following auto-renewal
  • 140/4 - consumers can't extend interest-only mortgage and face repossession
  • 140/5 - consumer with terminal cancer says his life assurance won't pay off his mortgage
  • 140/6 - consumer with cancer can't move back home following flood damage and insurance claim
  • 140/7 - consumer can't afford repairs to hire-purchase car
  • 140/8 - consumer is confused following current account switch
  • 140/9 - consumer in mortgage debt following husband's illness is threatened with repossession
  • 140/10 - consumer says bank hasn't transferred his money, despite repeated requests

consumer can't get car insurance because of mix-up with chargeback and Cifas

Mr S got in touch with us about problems he was having getting car insurance. He said he'd originally taken out insurance around 18 months previously, and his friend had paid for it with her debit card. But there'd been a mix up. His friend had got confused, hadn't recognised the transaction, and had tried to do a chargeback. And as a result, the insurer had cancelled the policy.

Mr S explained that, although he'd managed to find different insurance at the time, he couldn't find an insurer to cover him this year. He said he'd gone round in circles with his previous insurer and his friend's bank. But he wasn't getting anywhere - and wanted our help.

putting things right

It seemed the situation was now urgent. Having spent several weeks trying to sort things out, Mr S would have no insurance within the next week. He lived in a small village and relied heavily on his car. On top of this worry, he'd recently had heart surgery - and was finding dealing with the situation very stressful.

Mr S said that his old insurer had told him he'd need to get confirmation from his friend's bank that her debit card payment was genuine. He and his friend had both tried speaking to the bank, but the bank had said it was nothing to do with them.

We got in touch with Mr S's old insurer to find out more. They confirmed that Mr S's friend had made a chargeback on the payment for his insurance. So they'd cancelled his policy and shared his details with the national fraud database, Cifas - which explained why he couldn't now get insurance. The old insurer said they wanted proof that Mr S's friend's payment hadn't been fraudulent - and only then would they arrange for the Cifas marker to be removed.

Mr S's friend was happy to talk to us. She confirmed she'd wanted to pay for Mr S's insurance, and had accidentally reclaimed it when she hadn't recognised the way the insurer's name had come up on her bank statement. She said she didn't want to speak to her bank again because she'd found it difficult when she'd tried in the past.

We suggested to Mr S's friend that she write directly to Mr S's old insurer to confirm that her payment had been genuine. Within the week, the insurer had removed Mr S's details from the Cifas database and he'd been able to find new car insurance.

consumer thinks packaged bank account with overdraft was mis-sold

Mr B contacted us about his packaged bank account. He explained that a few years previously, shortly after he'd been made redundant, his bank had phoned him about upgrading his account. At the time, he'd been working in his local pub to tide things over. And as the account would mean he'd get a better interest rate on his overdraft, he'd agreed to it.

But now - looking at the monthly fee, as well as charges he'd run up - Mr B felt he'd lost a lot of money over the years. He'd complained, but his bank had told him they believed the account was the right choice - and that the car breakdown cover it came with would have been useful to him. Mr B now wanted our view.

putting things right

We asked Mr B what he remembered from when his account was sold. He explained how desperate he'd felt after losing his job and how difficult his financial circumstances had been. He said all he remembered talking about was the overdraft - and he didn't remember the bank mentioning the car breakdown cover.

We phoned the bank to hear their side. The original sales call was no longer available - which wasn't surprising given the time that had passed. The bank disagreed that the increased overdraft was the only reason for the upgrade. They pointed to Mr B's bank statements, which showed he'd stopped making payments for standalone breakdown cover after he'd upgraded to the account. They said this supported their view that they'd recommended the account because it had breakdown cover, and not just on the basis of the overdraft rate.

We asked Mr B about this. He said the reason he'd let the separate breakdown cover expire was because he couldn't afford it any more. He said he hadn't known his new bank account included breakdown cover - and he hadn't even been using his car because he'd been living within walking distance of work.

We decided - on balance - it was more likely that the account had been recommended to Mr B because of the overdraft rate. To outweigh the cost of the account fees, Mr B would have needed to be constantly near the maximum overdraft limit. And this hadn't been the case.

So overall, we didn't think the bank's recommendation had been right for Mr B. On reflection, the bank agreed he'd have been better off with a free account - and refunded all the packaged account fees he'd paid, with interest

consumer pays twice for car insurance following auto-renewal

Mr M phoned us after discovering his car insurer had renewed his policy. He'd already taken out insurance with a different company, so was now paying for two different policies for the same car. He said he hadn't been told his policy would auto-renew and wanted us to get his money back.

putting things right

Mr M hadn't yet contacted the insurer, but they'd already given us consent to get involved in complaints early on. When we got in touch with them, they said they'd no record of Mr M asking to cancel his policy.

We explained that we'd need to check it had been clear to Mr M that his policy would renew automatically. So we ask the insurer to send us the policy documents - as well as records of the contact they'd had with Mr M. In the meantime, Mr M emailed us details of the new policy he'd taken out with a different insurer.

We could see the policy documents clearly said the insurance would automatically renew. And the insurer's records showed that they'd emailed Mr M to remind him. There was also no evidence that Mr M had tried to cancel the policy. He'd phoned the insurer a few months beforehand, but the records showed this call was about adding another driver. On the other hand, it was clear from the fact Mr A had taken out new insurance that he hadn't realised what had happened.

We explained to Mr M that, given what we'd seen, we didn't think the insurer had acted unfairly. But in the circumstances, the insurer said they'd refund his renewal premium, less a cancellation fee. Mr M agreed to this and said he was happy to have the problem resolved so quickly.

consumers can't extend interest-only mortgage and face repossession

Mr and Mrs T told us they were having trouble with their interest-only mortgage. Their term had ended and they'd asked to extend it by five years. But their lender wouldn't agree, even though they'd put forward a plan for paying off the balance.

The lender had already told Mr and Mrs T their house needed to be sold - and they'd already begun to take legal action. Distressed and frustrated, Mr and Mrs T didn't know what to do next.

putting things right

We carefully considered both sides' positions. Mr and Mrs T had explained they'd be able to pay off their mortgage with their pensions. For their part, the lender wasn't saying they thought this suggestion was unaffordable. But they'd decided to enforce their end-of-term policy, which they said didn't accommodate what Mr and Mrs T had put forward.

We told the lender we weren't satisfied they were treating Mr and Mrs T fairly - or thinking about their individual circumstances. In our view, the couple's repayment suggestion seemed credible - and the lender hadn't considered any option but the sale of the house.

After we'd explained this, the lender said they'd changed their mind. They said they'd stop their legal action and would extend the mortgage term for five years - with Mr and Mrs T paying off the capital and the interest, rather than the interest alone. Mr and Mrs T were happy to agree - saying they were relieved their home was safe and that they could move forward with their life.

consumer with terminal cancer says his life assurance won't pay off his mortgage

A cancer charity contacted us about Mr C, who'd been given just a few weeks to live. He was very worried that his wife, Mrs C, would struggle to afford their mortgage repayments and would lose their home after he died.

The charity explained that Mr C had checked his life assurance arrangements. He'd been told by his provider that his cover wasn't guaranteed to pay off his mortgage balance, because he didn't have "decreasing term" assurance. Mr C felt he'd been sold useless cover - and the charity wanted our view.

putting things right

It was clearly an extremely distressing time for both Mr and Mrs C - and they needed an answer urgently. Although the life assurance provider hadn't looked into Mr C's concerns, they said we could start looking at things straight away. And they quickly sent over some information from financial planning meetings they'd had with Mr C in the past.

Looking at these records, we saw Mr C had been offered decreasing term assurance for his mortgage on three previous occasions. But he'd turned it down, saying he had enough other cover in place. The provider explained that Mr C had three other life policies - and that he was still repaying a personal loan to another part of their business group.

The provider sent us records showing the value of Mr C's other policies. And, having reviewed these, we confirmed to the charity that there'd be enough to pay off Mr C's mortgage balance. We also got in touch with the loan company to explain Mr C's situation - and they offered to write off the outstanding balance, so he had one less thing to worry about.

Mr C told us it was a huge relief to know Mrs C would be financially secure.

consumer with cancer can't move back home following flood damage and insurance claim

Mrs Q contacted us on behalf of her father, Mr B. She explained that Mr B had been in hospital being treated for cancer when his home had flooded, causing extensive damage. He'd successfully claimed on his home insurance - and the insurer had arranged for a specialist company to dry everything out with dehumidifiers and carry out repairs.

Mrs Q said that, once the specialist company had said they'd finished, she'd visited the house to check it over. She'd phoned the insurers to let them know the floor was still wet. But after some delay, the insurer had told her that, because Mr B's floor hadn't had damp-proofing installed before the flooding, it wasn't their responsibility to repair it.

Mrs Q didn't think this was fair - and asked if we could help sort things out. She said her father had been living in temporary accommodation since coming out of hospital, and wanted to be back at home so his family could care for him there.

putting things right

We asked the insurer how they'd reached their decision. They said paying for damp proofing would put Mr B in a better position than he'd been in before the flood damage. So they didn't think it was fair to expect them to cover it.

We explained to the insurer that they had a responsibility to put in place lasting repairs. It seemed the alternative to fitting damp-proofing was to repeatedly dry out Mr B's house. And the insurer agreed this wasn't practical, as the dehumidifiers would need to run for eight hours a day.

The insurer told us that, on reflection, paying for damp proofing as part of the claim would be the best way to settle it - ensuring that continuous repairs wouldn't be needed into the future. They also accepted that prolonging the claim for longer than necessary had caused significant distress to Mr B and his family. So they offered £500 to recognise this.

We let Mr B and Mrs Q know that the insurer wanted to put things right for them - and that we thought their suggestion was fair. Mr B was happy to accept and relieved to be moving back home.

consumer can't afford repairs to hire-purchase car

Mr D phoned us after having repeated trouble with his car. He said it had begun to have engine problems eight months after he'd bought it on hire purchase, He'd been told by the garage that it needed a replacement engine. So he'd contacted the lender to see if they'd cover the cost.

The lender had told Mr T that they wouldn't pay for the engine, but they'd add the amount to Mr D's borrowing - so he could pay it off over time. Mr D said he hadn't been happy with this, but had agreed because he'd needed a working car.

A couple of months later, Mr D was still having trouble. The garage was now saying a different component was at fault. And the lender was giving the same response about paying for it.

Mr D told us he didn't want to take on any more debt - and was very unhappy to be paying each month for a car he couldn't drive. He asked if we could help.

putting things right

We got in touch with the lender to hear their side. They said they'd already given Mr D their final response on the complaint. They didn't think the faults had been there when he bought the car, so they weren't liable for repairs or replacement of the parts.

The lender sent us some of the evidence they'd used to make their decision. We could see that the car had passed an MOT shortly before Mr D bought it. And it looked like both the problems he'd experienced had happened suddenly, rather than things deteriorating over time.

We told Mr D that we didn't think the lender had acted unfairly - as there was evidence the parts that later failed had been working when he bought the car. Mr D said he trusted our view. But he said he couldn't afford to repair the latest faulty part - or to increase his loan repayments.

We spoke to the lender to see if they could offer reduced payments - to help Mr D get back on his feet. They agreed to halve his repayments for four months, and increase them after this time to ensure the balance was fully repaid. Mr D thought this sounded reasonable and was pleased he'd be able to get back on the road.

consumer is confused following current account switch

Mrs F wrote to us shortly after switching her bank account. She was worried the switch hadn't gone to plan and thought some of her pension payments had gone missing. She explained she was elderly, lived alone, and often had trouble with her memory. She said she didn't trust financial institutions - and asked us to help her find out what had happened to her money.

putting things right

We contacted Mrs F's new bank and asked for details about the switch. The bank showed us that all her regular payments had been successfully moved to them from her old provider.

Mrs F was reassured that her payments were all in place. And she said she'd now seen that her pension payments were being made. But she was still confused about what had happened to her savings accounts now she was with a different bank.

We explained to Mrs F that only her current account had switched over - so any other accounts she had, whoever they were with, would still be in the same place. With Mrs F's permission, we contacted her old current account provider, who she said she also saved with. They confirmed the status of a number of ISAs and savings accounts, including the dates some of them had been closed.

When we told Mrs F what we'd found, she asked us to put it in writing so she had everything in one place. Now clearer about how things stood, she was satisfied nothing had gone wrong and that she had a handle on all her accounts.

consumer in mortgage debt following husband's illness is threatened with repossession

Mrs N phoned us after getting a "letter of action" from a mortgage administration company, saying they were taking steps to repossess her home. She explained that her husband was terminally ill, and that they'd been struggling financially since he'd given up work. She'd had an initial conversation with a debt advice charity. But - trying to care for her husband while faced with losing their home - Mrs N said things were just overwhelming and she wanted our help.

putting things right

We phoned the mortgage administration company to find out more details. They said Mrs N was already on a repayment plan, but had been overpaying in some months and underpaying in others. And they said they'd press ahead with legal action if things carried on as they were.

Mrs N hadn't yet complained to the mortgage administration company. But they agreed - in the circumstances - that we could get involved immediately, so we could work together to sort things out. Mrs N found it very difficult to talk about what was happening. But we explained that - to find a fair way forward - it was very important that she and the company talk openly about her situation and her options.

We arranged a three-way phone call - so Mrs N and the mortgage administration company could talk together, and we could support and encourage the conversation. The company mentioned that Mrs N's repayments hadn't always been arriving on time, leading her to run up charges. They suggested she pay by direct debit, so she didn't have that worry any more. And they said they'd capitalise the arrears, clear the interest and charges, and to extend the mortgage term by six months.

The company also accepted that, even though Mrs N's repayments had been irregular, it was clear she'd been doing her best to keep up. So they apologised for sending the letter of action and said they'd withdraw it.

We told Mrs N that we thought this was a fair solution in her individual circumstances. She said she was grateful for this support and certainty at a very difficult time. And she agreed to keep in touch with a named account manager at the mortgage administration company with the help of the free debt charity.

consumer says bank hasn't transferred his money, despite repeated requests

Mr W told us that his bank had closed his account, but he still had a large sum of money in there. He now lived abroad, so he'd asked his bank to transfer the money to his son's account. He said he'd been told this would happen within 28 days - but it was now months down the line and it still hadn't happened.

Mr W sent us emails to show that he'd repeatedly asked his local branch to complete the transfer. They'd either told him it would happen soon, or hadn't responded at all. Mr W felt he'd been patient. But he didn't feel he was getting anywhere with his bank and just wanted the situation sorted out.

putting things right

We asked Mr W's bank for more information about what had been happening. Checking their records, they found that there'd been a breakdown in communication between Mr W's branch and their department that handled transfers. The branch had sent over some illegible paperwork - and ever since, the transfer department had been waiting for legible copies so they could go ahead.

The bank told us this was the only issue that had delayed things - and they accepted they'd made promises to Mr W that they hadn't kept. They said that, since we'd been in touch, they'd completed the transfer - and wanted to offer Mr W £250 for the trouble they'd caused him.

We told Mr W that his bank had now sorted things out for him, and that we felt that their offer was fair. Mr W thanked us for our help - and said, now his bank had put things right so quickly, he'd regained some of the confidence he'd lost.

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ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.