Next week tom Brennan is due in court against Natwest about bank charges. He’s a junior barrister who ran up charges and, while NatWest has offered a settlement and put money in his bank account, he’s trying to force the bank to pay exemplary damages (in other words big compensation on top) of the fees. I must say while I admire his gumption, I’m in two minds as to whether it’s a good or bad thing. Let me give you my mullings (though I’m open to persuasion)
1. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Currently everyone who takes it to the final level, gets a payout: the banks have never defended so if you follow the steps in the Bank Charges Reclaiming article correctly you should get all your cash back. Will a court ruling help this? Well it may give surety, but we pretty much have that; the banks haven’t defended yet and obviously by Mr Brennan’s efforts don’t want to. A ruling may also mean a lower payout, as all recognise that the banks should be allowed to make a proportionate charge.
Thus a court ruling doesn’t really seem to help the campaign. My main worry isn’t about the courts; it’s about all the people who won’t do this. Many who are illiterate, innumerate, don’t have web access, or have mental health issues. A court ruling won’t really help them. We need the politicians to intervene and say “the banks took people’s money unlawfully without asking, they should give it back to all without being asked”.
2. Are exemplary damages fair? This is difficult for me, my reason for joining this campaign – after I was approached by Dave Smith (of the Consumer Action Group) way back in 2006 – was that the situation with charges is unjust, unlawful and hurts people’s finances. Redressing that balance is what this is about, and stopping the dreadful snowball effect that charges can have. The aim is to help people back to the position they should’ve been in if they hadn’t had charges at this unfair level – so that is getting the charges back, getting any lost interest, and any ongoing other financial impact being sorted.
Yet by exemplary damages we risk people actually being rewarded for having had charges; being in a better position than if they’d never had them. For me this is about justice not grabbing. Hence why I’m debating the concept.