Legal eagles hover, ready to pick banks' bones on PPI

Claims experts are cashing in as policyholders seek redress in the latest mis-selling scandal – payment protection insurance. Julian Knight reports

For good or ill, litigation has become a part of the British way of life. It started with law firms offering to win compensation for people involved in accidents. They operated on a no-win, no-fee basis and tempted consumers with catchy advertising slogans such as "where there's blame, there's a claim".

It was probably inevitable, over time, and considering the financial-services industry's habitual mis-selling, that some law firms would turn to representing people who had been wronged by Britain's banks and insurers.

First, just after the millennium, the legal firms started to offer to bring cases for people who thought they had been mis-sold endowment policies and personal pensions in the 1980s and 1990s. The firms would take the details of the claim from the consumer and then approach the insurer and ask for compensation. If the claim was rejected, they would then move on to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

More recently, as the public furore over punitive bank charges increased, these same firms started to offer to take up the cases of consumers who had been penalised for going into the red. But with potentially hundreds of millions at stake and the banks and the Office of Fair Trading locked in a high-court battle over the legitimacy of bank charges, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has ordered that all consumer claims for a refund be put on ice for the time being.

So the legal firms have moved on, this time to the mis-selling scandal of the moment – payment protection insurance. PPI offers to pay out if a policyholder becomes unable to work, through illness or redundancy, and cannot pay off a mortgage, a loan or a credit card. It is a big moneyspinner for the banks and insurers, worth an estimated £5.5bn a year. But it has long attracted the fire of consumer groups who claim that the insurance is massively overpriced and is full of get-out clauses so that the provider doesn't have to pay out even if a policyholder is ill or has been made redundant.

The FSA seems to concur that PPI has its flaws, as it has fined a host of providers for mis-selling. The most recent and biggest fine was handed out a few weeks ago to Alliance & Leicester. The bank was fined £7m for the potential mis-selling of PPI over a period of nearly three years.

No wonder the legal eagles are hovering, ready to pick the bones of the banks.

"Millions of people have been systematically mis-sold these policies and they deserve their premiums refunded," said Andy Humphries, managing director of Renaissance Easy Claims, a claims management firm.

Mr Humphries's figure on the number of people mis-sold PPI is probably not as fanciful as it first seems. Alliance & Leicester, following the FSA fine, is currently writing to 211,000 loan customers who bought PPI from it between January 2005 and December 2007, informing them of how to make a complaint if they feel they have been mis-sold.

"Some of the instances of mis-selling are quite blatant," said Dan Hayes, a solicitor specialising in PPI for Keypoint Legal Services. "Retired people who are too old to claim on the policy and do not need it as they are on a pension income have been sold these policies. Another common abuse is mis-selling to self-employed people who are not allowed to claim for redundancy under the terms of the contract."

But these "no-win, no-fee" firms aren't taking on the banks out of the goodness of their heart, there is, of course, a fee to pay.

"We charge 25 per cent plus VAT – paid out of the compensation won – which is pretty typical," Mr Humphries said. "We don't pretend that you can't complain to the firm yourself and, even if they reject it, then go to the Financial Ombudsman Service. However, it's a lot of hassle, and time consuming, and people have busy lives. It's the same as employing a handyman to do your painting and decorating; sure, you can do it yourself, but you can save time and have a better job done by getting someone in."

Mr Hayes added that using a legal firm to pursue a PPI mis-selling claim can also help overcome some of the tactics employed by the banks and insurers to put claimants off.

"Rejection letters [issued by banks and insurers once a compensation claim is investigated] will give lots of what, to the untrained eye, look like plausible reasons for turning down a claim. However, we can spot these bogus excuses and will pursue the claim. If we believe in a claim we will pursue it to the FOS and if we have no luck there we can even appeal the FOS decision on our customer's behalf," Mr Hayes said.

But the FOS is becoming inundated with claims as banks and insurers choose to reject initial approaches for compensation. "We are encountering huge delays with the FOS at present. Some cases are taking up to 10 months to resolve as the banks and insurers drag their feet," Mr Humphries said.

On the other hand, though, Alliance & Leicester said that the increasing involvement of claims companies is causing delays and confusion. "These companies often use template letters which may not properly reflect the issues customers who are making the complaint actually have. This means we have to write back for more details, which holds the process up," said Steve Gracey from Alliance & Leicester.

"Anyway, we have systems in place to deal with mis-selling claims; which customers can easily access on their own. It confuses the process if third parties get involved," he said.

Banks and insurers in general have long had a strained relationship with claim management firms. Anthony Frost of Abbey said: "My thoughts are that people can do this for themselves. If they think they have been mis-sold they should approach the bank or insurer in question. If you are paid compensation, they will take between 30 and 40 per cent of what you win for doing, often, very little."

Mr Frost added that when he used to work at Prudential, the insurer, it took a decision to no longer deal with claim management firms which were chasing compensation over endowment mis-selling: "A firm line was taken not to deal with these companies, customers don't need to go to them," he said.

Stuart Glendinning, from the price comparison website moneysupermarket.com, said that the advent of PPI mis-selling claims management may encourage frivolous claims: "The worry I have is that some of these firms will want everyone who approaches them to complain, regardless of the circumstances of the case." In response, the claim management firms say that they vet their clients carefully and do not pursue bogus or frivolous claims.

Mr Glendinning is also concerned that some policyholders could be dispensing with insurance just when they need it most.

"People thinking about complaining need to ask themselves – is this a good time to do without insurance in case of unemployment? We are in a recession and people will lose their jobs as a result," Mr Glendinning said. "I have already heard of instances where people have had their PPI refunded and then gone on to lose their jobs soon after."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

    SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 - £21000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: As a graduate you are...

    Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn