How to get money back from a bank

March 29th, 2010 at 15:12 UTC by Ross Anderson

I’ve written enough over the years about people who tried and failed to get money back from banks after seeing transactions on their accounts that they did not recognise. Now I’ve had to go through the process myself.

I got a refund from the NatWest after a dodgy debit appeared on the credit card my wife uses. The bank’s dispute resolution mechanism turned out to be unserviceable, but we got the money back promptly when we sued them in the small claims court. The story is, I believe, an instructive one for people interested in bank security or payment systems regulation.

I have put online the documents which tell the story. A debit of £126.51 appeared last June from “Ian Travel Services” about which there are many complaints online. My wife phoned the bank and didn’t get anywhere. So I wrote to them asking to reverse the transaction or provide evidence that it was made with our mandate.

The bank insisted that I fill out two declarations – one saying I didn’t recognise the transaction and the second saying that I hadn’t made it. When I replied that only the first of these was true and demanded evidence that the debit was made by myself or my wife, in line with the Distance Selling Directive if it were by a card-not-present transaction and otherwise by providing the relevant log entries, the reply was that MasterCard required them to obtain duly completed and signed declaration forms although “these are not legally binding” (an assertion that appears to be false). The bank said it had nonetheless asked for a copy of the voucher “through the retailers acquiring bank”.

Two months later, they got back to me and said that “the only information the retailer provided us with is that the debit relates to a transaction made through hotels.com”. I replied to them that we had received a notification from hotels.com that another of our credit cards had been compromised by the loss of a laptop by their auditors and asserted my rights under the Distance Selling Directive.

The following month they wrote back saying that “we are governed by MasterCard International, who are the governing body for credit card transactions” and had to abide by their rules, under which our complaint was now out of time. This is nonsense on stilts; my contract is with the bank, who may not debit my account without my mandate, and if the bank enters into a contract with MasterCard that prevents it from discharging its obligations to me then that’s the bank’s problem, not mine. The bank suggested i get legal advice, or go to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Local Trading Standards or the Financial Ombudsman Service. Now I documented the failings of the Ombudsman in an earlier post, so I decided to go straight to the heart of the matter and sue the bank in the small claims court.

The bank settled at once.

This may be entirely rational behaviour on the bank’s part. If it can fob off most complainants with tiresome call-centre procedures, or tell them they’re out of time, or pass them off on Citizen’s Advice, then it will only have to refund the minority who ignore this flummery and go to court. Even then, the bank only has to pay an extra £25 for the court fee. So now you know – suing the bank is the fastest, simplest and least-hassle way of getting your money back. I’ve come across the same phenomenon elsewhere: when Easyjet cancelled a flight, the only way I could get the compensation to which EU law entitles me was by suing them, and then getting the bailiffs to enforce the judgement. (The bailiff told me on the phone that she enforces lots of these.) Another Easyjet customer writes: suing in the County Court for small claims should be part of citizenship lessons for teenagers.

So it seems that the optimal bank complaint procedure is one letter, then a writ. But do take care that your case remains on the small claims track. In the Alain Job case, the bank persuaded the judge to move the case from the small claims track to the fast track, the effect of which was that Alain was ordered to pay the bank £15,000 in costs after he lost. If a bank tries that on you, you’d maybe better tell the judge that you’d have to abandon the case and thus your human rights would be infringed. But IANAL, this isn’t legal advice, and your mileage (as they say) may vary.

Entry filed under: Banking security, Legal issues, Politics, Security economics

31 comments Add your own

  • 1. Nick James  |  March 29th, 2010 at 17:29 UTC

    “The bank insisted that I fill out two declarations – one saying I didn’t recognise the transaction and the second saying that I hadn’t made it. When I replied that only the first of these was true”

    Could you spell this out in detail? I don’t understand why you cannot state that you haven’t made the transaction. I mean, you didn’t make it, did you?

  • 2. Peter Ibbotson  |  March 29th, 2010 at 17:34 UTC

    I’m somewhat surprised that natwest doesn’t have a big “don’t mess with this guy” flag on your account, given your past work.

  • 3. Mark McCutcheon  |  March 29th, 2010 at 17:52 UTC

    @Nick James:
    Prof. Anderson’s reasons are spelled out in his correspondance with the bank, which he posted as above. It’s quite instructive in the sleazy ways of the banking industry…

  • 4. Vicky Larmour  |  March 29th, 2010 at 17:56 UTC

    Hmm, interesting. Did Easyjet admit liability at any stge? I’m in the process of trying to claim compensation from them, they have admitted liability and twice promised to pay the money “within 15-20 days”, but so far it has not materialised. I’m wondering whether to take them to Small Claims.

    (I’ve used it once before very successfully when a kitchen salesman got me to sign up and pay a deposit on the written basis that the deposit was fully refundable if I changed my mind. When I duly changed my mind, he tried to claim that there was a £150 “admin fee” that was not refundable.)

  • 5. matt  |  March 29th, 2010 at 20:36 UTC

    curious if they settled just for the disputed amount or threw in anymore due to the inconveniences (time, legal fees, etc)?

  • 6. Nick James  |  March 29th, 2010 at 22:14 UTC

    @Mark McCutcheon

    Which I read, I’m afraid I still don’t get it.

  • 7. Harry Johnston  |  March 29th, 2010 at 23:41 UTC

    Nick:- without enough information to determine where the purchase was made, there is no way for Mr. Anderson to know for sure whether or not he approved the transaction. This would be true for anyone, unless they recorded every transaction they made on the card.

  • 8. Simson  |  March 30th, 2010 at 04:46 UTC

    You know, we just don’t have problems like this in the US, thanks to our pro-consumer protection reg E and reg Z.

  • 9. John  |  March 30th, 2010 at 11:34 UTC

    I don’t understand what the implications are of signing the second form indicating that the author did not make the purchase, the author obviously did not make it.

  • 10. PJH  |  March 30th, 2010 at 12:02 UTC

    John – the 2nd declaration requires you to categorically state that you did not make the transaction.

    Since Ross was unable to ascertain that neither he nor his wife definitely didn’t make the transaction (since some firms don’t appear under their own name on your CC bill,) if he signed it and it turned out that either of them had in fact made a genuine purchase, then he’d be signing a false declaration, with any repercussions associated with such an act.

    Put simply Ross didn’t have enough information to categorically sign it truthfully – indeed, he asked for paperwork to determine exactly where the transaction took place (which was not forthcoming,) to determine it.

    Matt – all they refunded was the initial charge on the card, the late charges, and the court fee – they refused to even pay the interest on the disputed amount for the period it was disputed for. (£5.51)

  • 11. varske  |  March 30th, 2010 at 14:27 UTC

    Thanks for all the traffic to my blog. Glad the Easyjet post is useful and I hope lots of people succeed, so they have to improve their customer service.

  • 12. Phil Ayres  |  March 30th, 2010 at 14:50 UTC

    Ross, sorry to hear about your woes and I’m pleased you found a way to sort it out.

    Unfortunately, when bank departments have inappropriate metrics measuring their success (minimise disputes paid), rather than ones that improve the overall profitability of the bank (retaining happy customers who are impressed with your integrity), we see this type of stupidity.

    I hope that you changed to a new bank after this!

    BTW, I blogged about your experiences from the point of view of banking processes being efficient at ineffectiveness, and these misplaced attempts at targeting profits.

    Nice post!
    Phil

  • 13. callum  |  March 30th, 2010 at 15:48 UTC

    bear in mind that if you live in Scotland, the majority of UK banks do not recognise the Scottish legal system – which is pretty appalling that someone living in Shetland would have to travel 600 miles to the nearest English courtroom.

    The Scottish legal system has different thresholds for small claims and different measure of acceptable evidence.

  • 14. Tony H.  |  March 30th, 2010 at 17:28 UTC

    @Peter Ibbotson
    “I’m somewhat surprised that natwest doesn’t have a big “don’t mess with this guy” flag on your account, given your past work.”

    In countries like the UK and Canada, with just a handful of national banks, and unlike the US, with little “mom & pop” banks everywhere to choose from, there is a real fear that if you make trouble you may find yourself with no bank account at all. Like Internet access, access to the banking system is a defacto necessity of life, but not one that is legislated.

  • 15. varske  |  March 30th, 2010 at 17:43 UTC

    @callum. No need to go to England to sue an English bank. You can do it on the internet, as I did with Easyjet. I was working abroad at the time and it was a lot more than 600 miles to travel for me.

  • 16. Scatman Dan  |  March 30th, 2010 at 19:59 UTC

    Not just the £25: by the time it had gone to a small claims court you could have charged 8% statutory rate intrest on the money that was taken from you, too. On a sum of the size you indicated, on the timescales we’re talking about, this wouldn’t have been more than a few pounds, but it’s these few pounds that penalise the banks for allowing these kinds of mistakes to happen in the first place.

  • 17. Phil Ayres  |  March 30th, 2010 at 21:38 UTC

    Tony H. – access to a bank account is not far off being legislated, at least in the UK: a story in the Times from just last week discusses it (link is in this blog post) Need a bank account? Its yours

    But you are right, there is a fear that the banks won’t touch you. I’d like to see them turn down a customer that walked in with valid funds and a good FICO score though! Bank managers with bonuses aren’t that short sighted I hope.

  • 18. PJH  |  March 30th, 2010 at 22:02 UTC

    Scatman Dan – the 8% was put on the claim form (the aforementioned £5.51)

    Natwest refused to pay it, paying back only the original disputed charge, the late payment fee charged, and the court costs.

    In the words of Natwest, in the pdf:

    “No interest has been charged on the disputed £126.51 and therefore the £5.51 will not be payable.”

    It would appear that Natwest are (deliberately?) under the impression that the interest mentioned on the claim form is interest that Natwest charged on the amount, and not the 8% due under these circumstances.

  • 19. Keith Appleyard (Brighton, UK)  |  March 31st, 2010 at 08:49 UTC

    I don’t think Ross’s experience will recur, because since November 2009 you now have up to 13 months to query a transaction – no matter what MasterCard bylaws state.
    http://www.moneymadeclear.fsa.gov.uk/products/credit_cards/credit_cards_getting_help.html
    reproduced verbatim below :
    “If there is an unauthorised transaction on your credit card account you should dispute it without undue delay (and no later than 13 months after the transaction).
    It is for the bank, building society or credit card company to show that the transaction was made by you and there was no breakdown in procedures or technical difficulty.
    If you’ve not authorised the payment then your credit card company must immediately refund you the transaction amount unless they have some evidence suggesting you may not be entitled to a refund because of the way you have acted. In these cases the credit card company must investigate the claim, but must do so as quickly as possible.”
    Banks & Credit Card companies now have to keep all the data readily available for 13 months, just in case you make a claim a year later. They can’t claim they no longer have any records of the event. If they didn’t keep any records, then since they can’t prove their case – you win.

  • 20. John Collins  |  March 31st, 2010 at 21:48 UTC

    I think you should stick out for the £5.51 as that is payable under the County Courts Act not whether the bank feels like paying it or not.

  • 21. Short Memory  |  April 1st, 2010 at 12:43 UTC

    @Nick James
    Presumably Ross, like myself, cannot account for every single transaction on his bank statement. It follows that he cannot assert that he absolutely did not make a transaction, but he can still be suspicious about it.

  • 22. susan hartley  |  April 1st, 2010 at 21:04 UTC

    just checking a message regarding receiving your money back on a cancelled flight by easy jet which we were informed on the 17/02/2010 that our money was being processed back into our bank account within 15-20 working days. So far sent emails on numerous occasions as you cannot contact them by phone still same reply its being processed amount owed is approx 1,035.00. The flights were booked well in advance for June 2010 to Spain .Can you help in how to get the money back quickly as needed to book new flights and not with Easy Jet.

  • 23. F  |  April 3rd, 2010 at 16:34 UTC

    Susan Hartley: “Can you help in how to get the money back quickly as needed to book new flights and not with Easy Jet.”

    Tell them (in writing) that they have had twice the 15 days they quoted, and unless the money is in your bank account within fourteen calendar days you will sue in the Small Claims Court. Give them an extra day, then do so, at
    . However, it will take several more weeks (unless they cough up at the threat).

    Or go to your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau. Find it via

  • 24. F  |  April 3rd, 2010 at 16:34 UTC

    Susan Hartley: “Can you help in how to get the money back quickly as needed to book new flights and not with Easy Jet.”

    Tell them (in writing) that they have had twice the 15 days they quoted, and unless the money is in your bank account within fourteen calendar days you will sue in the Small Claims Court. Give them an extra day, then do so, at
    http://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/. However, it will take several more weeks (unless they cough up at the threat).

    Or go to your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau. Find it via
    http://www.adviceguide.org.uk

  • 25. Clive Robinson  |  April 15th, 2010 at 01:42 UTC

    Ross,

    Well done and do chase them to get the extra money involved.

    However I should sound a note of caution.

    You are required by the court to “make a reasonable attempt to resolve” before entering in to legal action.

    The rules are a bit fuzzy but there are a number of things you can claim for such as “your time” (about 10GBP/hour) “postage” “transportation” and a few other bits and bobs that can IF you keep records mount up.

    The most important thing to remember is “if it ain’t writen down it never happened” so each and every time you make a phone call make a not of when it started how long if they dropped the call who you spoke to what was said etc and when the call finished.

    By all means record the conversation BUT you are required by law to tell them you will be keeping a record of the conversation, and the tape recording is usually not admissable. However if you write it all down word for word immediatly afterwards and sign and date it, stating it is a true record of the conversation it becomes a legitimate record that is usually admisable.

    Judges/adjudicators like paperwork, they like it well organised and indexed and easy to read the also like overviews and time lines.

    The better prepared you are the easier it will be for you to present your case with confidence and professionalism. And also to defend it against cross questioning from the defendant or their representative. (There is nothing worse than ruffling slowly through pages of information to find the one document you need SO INDEX EVERYTHING).

    If you don’t have a piece of paper for an event, then put in a piece of paper in a different colour and write on it what it represents, and why you don’t have it (ie the defendent has held back evidence such as the signed voucher for a transaction).

    Also remember you are “telling a story” not “regurgitating dry details”. You should be able to state what your grevence is in a sentance and an overview of your case in a paragraph.

    If you can not, how do you expect a busy judge to get their head around it quickly so that they have a skeleton to flesh out as you give the rest of your evidence (remember they are human just like you ;)

    And always alway watch out for the defendants representatives asking multiple questions as one or spurious argument. If you don’t understand a question or statment by them break it down and feed it back to them bit by bit or get them to repeate it bit by bit, and if you think it’s spurious actually ask them why they think it is relavant.

    You actually get a lot more leeway in a SCC than you do in other courts, simply because you are expected to represent yourself.

    This also means that you can speak “plainly” (but always politly) and if a word, phrase or statment is used that you don’t understand then say so and ask for it to be explained “plainly”.

    Also remember that the Data Protection legislation acts in your favour, when the defending organisation does not provide paperwork. Any data pertaining to your case is going to be held in some sort of “database” (and paper records are included in this) as a “data subject” you have rights to have copies of all paperwork relating to you… And they have a little over a month to produce from receiving a compleated application (and where required payment) or they are in breach which is effectivly a crime…

    Oh and if you make a payment for the copying of records etc use a cheque and write on the back of it that it is only to be used for that specific purpose. Also put in the acompanying letter it is only to be used for that specific purpose and no other. Debt collection agencies just love to take the money “as part payment on the debt” and as “proof that you owe the debt”…

    Oh and above all don’t get to stressed out about it, get a friend to go through your case with you and rehearse before hand.

  • 26. Sam James  |  April 19th, 2010 at 10:44 UTC

    The simple fact remains that had Ross actually signed the form to state he had not incurred the charge then the bank would have immediately refunded the transaction. This occurs everyday in many different banks up and down the country. usual practice is you sign declarations stating it is fraudulent use and they automatically refund you (Generally for any sum below £150). The fact that you felt you “couldn’t” sign the form meant you had to wait ages and prolong the process further. If you dont feel you can 100% say that it wasn’t your charge then don’t claim it back. Sign the form like you should have done and there would have been no problem.

  • 27. PJH  |  April 19th, 2010 at 13:53 UTC

    Utter rubbish Sam.

    There was insufficient information provided, even after asking, to state that he either definitely did incur the charge, or he definitely didn’t. The bank refused to supply it.

    And that sort of situation doesn’t fit nicely into your little world-view of how things should be done.

    Lets say he did sign it, and it turned out he did incur the charge – the bank would be hot on his heels.

    Lets say he didn’t sign it, and it turned out to be fraudulent – he’s out of pocket.

  • 28. rob  |  April 20th, 2010 at 22:57 UTC

    It’s even worse than that, PJH. Signing the first statement, to say that he didn’t recognise the transaction, renders any answer to the second question untrue – regardless of whether or not the transaction was fraudulent.

    Effectively, the bank is saying “We will only give you a refund if you perjure yourself.”

  • 29. Ross Anderson  |  August 12th, 2010 at 12:53 UTC

    I’ve just noticed that although the dispute was settled on the basis that no interest had been charged, the bank did charge me £16.10 in March and £5.23 in April, despite the fact that I settle my bill in full every month. I presume some software glitch that got triggered by the repayment they made in settlement. I’ve written to them. Let’s see whether we have to sue them again; with luck they may have flagged my account to be dealt with only by someone clueful!

  • 30. PJH  |  August 12th, 2010 at 13:21 UTC

    I’d chase them up for the £5.51/8% interest while you’re at it Ross.

    And the 8% on the outstanding amount that’s accrued in the interim.

  • 31. AF  |  May 22nd, 2012 at 19:25 UTC

    This is a really instructive case, because I have a very similar issue with my bank here in Pakistan. And they are taking ages to resolve this. I have gone to the Ombudsman but they are just waiting and waiting for the bank to finish their investigation which is just dragging.
    Since the laws are very similar to England, I am thinking about going to the courts to get this matter sorted out.
    Thanks for the post.
    Ali

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