Bounced into a two-year ordeal: Sue Fieldman tells the story of a case where the TSB preferred to say No

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FOR almost two years Sara Throp, a single mother, and her young son Stefan have been living through a financial nightmare.

TSB Bank is pursuing Ms Throp for more than pounds 800 because she withdrew money from her account against a cheque that bounced.

But Ms Throp received confirmation four times from TSB that the money was in her account before she took it out. TSB has even admitted that it appeared to everyone concerned that the relevant cheque had been cleared for withdrawal.

However, this has not stopped TSB instructing debt collectors to take Ms Throp to court.

Ms Throp's harrowing experience began innocently on 21 October 1990. She was given a cheque for pounds 500 to pay into her account.

The cheque bounced. Ms Throp received a letter from the bank saying it would be represented.

She rang the bank on 26 October to find out when the cheque would be cleared. She was advised that if the cheque cleared it would be in her account on 30 October.

On 31 October she went to the bank and got a print-out statement showing that the pounds 500 was in her account.

Ms Throp said: 'Because the cheque had bounced before, I went into the bank and asked the cashier if he would check this for me. He said the money was in the account and wrote it down on a piece of paper for me. I then went home and rang another branch of TSB and the gentleman I spoke to checked and said that the money was there.

'The following day, 1 November, I went to town, took the cash over the counter and paid off various debts. The cashier had put my request through the computer before giving me the cash. So in fact I checked four times.'

Ms Throp heard nothing for more than a week. Then she received a letter from the bank dated 9 November.

The cheque had bounced on 1 November, and again when re-presented. Her account was now overdrawn and the bank wanted repayment.

On 19 November the bank wrote again asking for repayment of the overdrawn amount of pounds 513.

The bank's letter said: 'You should be aware that if you do not pay the amount which we have demanded or do not make alternative proposals which we find satisfactory within 28 days of this notice, it is our usual policy to lodge information relating to your failure to pay with certain credit reference agencies.'

Ms Throp was reduced to tears. She had done everything she could to check the money was in her account. But she was now being charged interest on an overdraft and threatened with blacklisting by the credit reference agencies.

She went to her social worker, who referred her to a solicitor. In a letter to her solicitor dated 4 December 1990, the TSB branch manager said: 'Miss Throp withdrew cash from her account on 1 November when it appeared to all concerned that a cheque, also for pounds 500, previously paid into her account had been cleared for withdrawal. In fact it had not . . .

'It does appear that the re-presentation of the cheque on 1 November 1990 was later than normal. Presumably the cheque was delayed in the post.'

The manager added that while the situation 'may seem unfair, I am not quite sure who you feel should 'lose' pounds 500. Surely somebody is responsible, and it is certainly not a third party, ie the bank.'

Correspondence ensued but with no success. Ms Throp wrote to the Banking Ombudsman. He was unable to look at the case until she had exhausted all avenues with TSB.

In May 1991 she wrote to the TSB's head office. On 4 July she received a letter saying that 'inquiries into your complaint are nearly complete'.

She was asked for some further information and she supplied it in August.

A year later she has still heard nothing further from the head office. But three weeks ago she received a letter from a firm of debt collectors instructed by the bank.

TSB was now claiming pounds 846, and unless payment was made immediately legal proceedings were to be instituted against her.

This week we contacted TSB on Ms Throp's behalf.

A spokesman for the bank said: 'Because of the length of time involved, the value of the sum involved, and Miss Throp's circumstances we have now decided that we are not going to pursue her for the money. We will write it off.'

Ms Throp is overjoyed. Her story has a happy ending. But do you think TSB's sudden about-turn would have happened if the Independent had not put it so firmly in the public spotlight?

(Photograph omitted)

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