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Unusual problem re Halifax fees / behaviour. Please help!


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Briefly I'm trying to fend off the Halifax and their claim to apply overdraft fees to my account. Bear with me because I'm in a situation I've not seen anywhere else. I'm living super-frugally on benefits atm.

 

First of all my present circumstances, having returned to the UK at the start of this year after living and travelling abroad since '04:

 

My monthly income:

 

£257.20 (£64.30 / week income based jobseekers' allowance)

 

Outgoings:

 

£220 rent/food/electricity/water/gas/home phone (inclusive payment)

No clothes, no nights out, no drinking, no paid memberships.

 

I have an issue with Halifax regarding an overdraft on a bank account I had for many years. Their latest statement as a few days ago shows the account over £550 overdrawn.

 

So the background to the situation:

 

When I was still a child and the Halifax was a building society, my mum set up an account for me. The account converted into an adult one when I turned 18. I went off to university and whilst changing my branch and depositing a cheque, the subject cropped up that I was a student. I was told that I could be given a student account and have benefits like an interest-free overdraft. So I brought in my info and this was set up. I don't remember being given a full set of terms and conditions and the whole thing was very much done with smiling faces and as if it was all a bonus to me, just a couple of signatures were needed. I ended up agreeing a £750 interest free overdraft with them. After Uni the Halifax got in touch, by phone as I remember, looked into my circumstances and agreed to continue my interest free overdraft. They only required regular payments into the account to keep it active. I worked, used the account etc. no problems over the years. Sometimes they sent me a reminder letter to put some money in the account (I still have some of these letters, which referred to 'the conditions of the account' - never making clear what these were).

 

In '04 I went off travelling, and left my personal communication at my mum's address and asked her to keep me posted. Sometime in November '09 my mum informed me about a template letter from Halifax informing that overdraft charges were being replaced with fees. I'm sure many are familiar with this letter entitled 'Important news about changes to your Halifax Current Account'. The letter states that fees will be introduced instead of debit interest charges on an overdraft. Not having any debit interest fees on an overdraft up to £750, I could not see that this applied to me.

 

So early this year I found myself back in the UK, with no job, no assets and no benefits (due to having been overseas). I received a statement form Halifax which showed that no charges were applied to this account in December. A statement then came through in February which showed £26 of arranged overdraft fees applied in January. I tried raising this on the phone and ended up in a meeting at my local branch. When I asked them to justify their actions they cited the letter. When I pointed out that I never had overdraft charges they claimed they could still apply them according to a contract I signed in '95. When I asked for a copy they said they couldn't give one. I pointed out that I had no income or assets so the charges would cripple me; I said how unfair this all was but they said it wasn't in their power and that my account was under head office. They told me to contact the Money Management Team. So I went home and called them. They weren't interested and told me to speak to CCCS (they didn't even make it clear they were external to Halifax).

 

So I started to follow CCCS' advice; they advised me to get some benefits (which took some time), they set me up for counselling and they advised me to send a statute barred letter (by working off the notion I'd been overseas for almost 6 years). Following some other research I also sent a letter requesting a true copy of the credit agreement (I've since been informed that this may/does not apply to overdrafts) and I requested them to hold charges pending advice. None of these letters were ever responded to, even following chase letters.

 

I spoke with the Financial Ombudsman who advised me to make a written complaint and await 8 weeks for a response. This I did, and received a phone call from a Halifax agent, who lied on the phone to me by telling me that I had been received interest charges on my overdraft. Only when I corrected with facts did the agent recant. I received a letter which stated that charges would be held that month and also provided Halifax's version (at the time) which was that a copy of the original contract couldn't be provided due to time elapsed, that the student account was switched to a Cardcash account in January '01, then this was switched to Current account in July '09 with the new fee structure being introduced in December. It also stated that I should have been charged interest but was unable to explain why I hadn't been for nine years! Then a 'system error' was blamed.

 

So following from this I awaited responses to my letters, sent chases, got the CAB involved who got Halifax to admit they had received my letters but hadn't responded and submitted the complaint to the Financial Ombudsman. As part of this I got a copy of my statutory credit report, which had an entry from Halifax listing a £750 overdraft on terms of 0 @ £0 from 1995. It also indicated over 4 years of being in terms. Whilst all this was happening I started getting charged again, then the account went outside the £750 thanks to Halifax's charges, for the pleasure of which they started charging £5/day! They started sending letters almost daily and making phone calls asking for my whereabouts. I tried to avoid speaking as per CCCS and CAB advice. During this I received a letter similar to the ones I used to get asking for a regular payment as per the terms and conditions. I made a payment and asked for a copy, but this was not responded to.

 

So in desperation I sent my details to a newspaper's consumer help page. They never responded directly but Halifax have recently sent a letter from the office of the Chief Exec confirming this and that the Ombudsman is investigating. They have confirmed that they received my letters. They've now held charges until the end of the month and made a refund of the charges so far and made a gratuity payment for the distress and inconvenience of £100. Unfortunately they are still standing by their right to apply these charges but not backing it up. Their latest version of events is that the transfer from a student account to a cardcash account and overdraft without interest was a 'shortfall' on their part. They also claim that a review of the account established that the status was incorrect, and that it should not have been a cardcash account. They claim its status was moved 'back to Current Account in July 2009, in line with the original conditions'. (I have no statement, record or recollection that it was ever a Current Account!) The letter also states that s.74 (10(b) of the CCA doesn't apply to an overdraft on a current account with respect to my request for a copy of the agreement. They now claim that the original records have been lost through flood damage at the branch! They have also provided an account statement print for over the last 6 years to establish that the account was active. They urge me to contact the Money Management team again, with the explanation that my account was in arrears when I first contacted them (it certainly wasn't over the overdraft limit) so they could not help at the time, but as it is no longer in arrears they can now help (it is still overdrawn and again inside the overdraft limit, so I can't see any difference from before).

 

So I'm now waiting for the Ombudsman but I'm wondering if I shouldn't be relying on this. I read a little about Subject Access Requests - should I get on with this? Also Halifax never responded directly with proof of the debt to my statute barred letter until now. CCCS advised me they had 40 days to respond. I make it over 4 months - does this mean that they haven't responded to the statute barred request, so it is now unenforceable? Also should I contact the Money Management team as per Halifax's advice, given that I've been advised not to speak with Halifax by CAB and CCCS and given Halifax's specious explanation? I don't want to them to start running up the debt again. I do not intent to not honour my debts but I believe that I am being charged without warrant. I would be quite happy if my account was returned to its previous configuration. It seems Halifax keeps changing its story and expecting me to believe the latest version of events. It can't back up any terms or conditions or original proof of contract and everything I can substantiate from them backs up my claim that I had an interest free overdraft.

 

Well sorry that's such a thesis! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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