The Bank Charges Court Case… what’s it really like.

At the moment the high court case between the banks and the OFT over bank charges is being heard. Sadly, I’ve not managed to make it there yet (though I aim to in the next few days), as delivering the MoneySaving info sometimes takes priority over watching the drama.

However, MSE Wendy has been on behalf of the site; one of her main specialities is working with me on the reclaim articles, so she’s the perfect person to go. She’s written a quick note on what it’s like to actually go there – take it away Wendy….

My experience of the bank charges hearing

It’s day 7 of the hearing, and as it turns out, one of the last chances to hear a bank speak before the OFT is likely to start its response in the morning. The hearing kicked off at 10.30 and for the next two and a half hours I saw (through a live video link into a feed room next door) some of the most interesting, and at the same time tedious, discussion about HBOS’s current account terms and conditions you could ever imagine, and that’s from someone who has followed bank charges for nearly two years!

The hearing room itself was so jam-packed with files of information and people in suits I’m surprised there was any room to move. It looked to me as though each of the banks had around six representatives each, with a few press at the back and the court staff bringing the total to about 60 people in all. And you’ve never seen so many files; ring binders were stacked floor to ceiling. How the judge will get time to look at it all I can’t imagine, though judging by what I saw today the man appears to have the memory of an elephant, pulling out facts and stats from evidence he’d heard from one or bank or another some time in the last two weeks. I don’t envy the difficult job he has to do.

It’s worth saying that I only heard HBOS (and a short while from Abbey), the sixth and seventh banks to speak, but one point I found interesting was the reference to the “free if in credit pricing model”, not the ‘free pricing model’ as many believe we currently have in this country, by the HBOS lawyer. So even the banks agree that we don’t have free banking in the UK (See my prior blog on this isn’t the end of free banking – ML). However, I’m not sure I agree with his comment that the obvious way for banks to make a profit is through fees on overdrawn accounts.

The main part of the morning’s discussions was based around payment ‘requests’, ‘instructions’ and ‘obligations’, and the differences between each when we’re in credit or overdrawn. These differences make it even more important for customers to be able to understand the terms and conditions of their accounts. Thus, discussion ventured into the very complicated subject of contracts being in a plain intelligible language, which is actually scheduled for in depth discussion on another day. Must try to get back there for that one!”

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