Bank Charges are one of the major sources of income for banks. All banks impose charges on certain failed transactions e.g. a bounced cheque, exceeding overdraft limits, returned direct debits etc. Indeed, banks are allowed to impose charges that reflect the amount of work undertaken by administrative staff in certain situations such as customers going into the red or handling a cheque which cannot be cleared due to insufficient funds in the account. If a cheque or direct debit has to be returned, the bank can charge for the cost of this process. However, any such charge must be reasonable. Banks who regularly impose hefty charges between £25.00-35.00 on a customer who is £1.00 overdrawn cannot be said to be acting fairly.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) declared that these charges were unfair and unreasonable. It is a scandal and many have called it daylight robbery. Banks when asked to produce documents justifying the charges have failed to do so. However, it is likely that the banks will have gathered some ammunition to produce at the High Court in the test case on bank charges in January 2008. The test case relates only to current accounts and not business accounts. The brutal truth is that unfair bank penalty charges have been imposed on millions of people. It has been a merciless punishment on people who may have simply overlooked their current account status or had a late payment of wages. Excessive charging has resulted in many people getting into debt which also has drastic consequences in credit ratings.
The High Court will no doubt be asked to consider whether the charges are fair. The penalties which can be imposed, and which no doubt may be in the individual contract between customer and bank, relate to a range of services following troublesome banking. However, the OFT’s investigation confirmed that banks were imposing illegal and unfair charges. It is widely thought that the High Court will rule in favour of the customer.
Recent research has suggested that about 41 per cent of people do not know the interest rates applicable to an unauthorized overdraft. Many more have simply swallowed the hefty charges imposed on them without even a letter of complaint or fight. It is also worth noting that 19 per cent of people are always overdrawn. These surveys also show that overdraft charges of £4.7 billion were paid by 43 per cent of current account holders last year.