Simon Read: Action at last against claims managers
Saturday 20 March 2010
I have often written about claims management companies in this column as I believe their activities to be largely reprehensible. They prey on hard-up people by telling them that they can write off their debts and be free of financial worries. But often they simple take a fee from a desperate person and do nothing to help them, leaving then in an even worse position.
But there was some good news this week when the Ministry of Justice finally shut down one of the biggest claims companies, Cartel Client Review. As we reported last Saturday, Consumer Credit Litigation Solicitors (CCLS) – the firm that provided legal services for CCR – was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority after accusations of "suspected dishonesty". The law firm was discovered to have tens of thousands of customer files just put in boxes, almost untouched.
Now that Cartel has been shut down, the full extent of its activity is likely to be revealed. It advertised in downmarket newspapers with suggestions it could help people walk away from their debts. In return for a £495 fee, Cartel said it it would check if people's debts, such as on credit cards and other loans, could be legally challenged and written off. In fact, it passed on the actual checking work to solicitors like CCLS.
Cartel is believed to have taken about £20m from up to 70,000 hard-up customers over the past two years. It did have some successes, in that lenders decided to pay up rather than face massive court costs, but those successes were minimal. In effect, it appears that all Cartel did was pocket people's fees while very little work was done for them.
Cartel's activities began to unravel after a series of court cases put paid to its contention that people could write off their debts through a legal loophole. The main argument put forward by Cartel and rival claims companies was that loan agreements struck before April 2007 could be challenged in court under the terms of Section 78 of the Consumer Credit Act and cancelled if the lenders were unable to produce a copy of their original agreement, or if the agreement was illegible or did not contain the specific terms required under the Consumer Credit Act.
But a case in December confirmed that banks and other lenders are allowed to "reconstitute" their terms and conditions to show that their original agreement with a borrower had been in line with the law. In other words banks and other lenders have ery right to chase debts even if they have lost the original agreement.
The Ministry Of Justice announced it was investigating Cartel in February. On Thursday it shut the firm down by suspending its authorisation. However, there are still plenty of other dubious claims companies out there and the MoJ should act and shut them down too.
For customers of Cartel, the Ministry's move has come too late. Cartel's boss, Carl Wright, said this week that the firm doesn't have the money to repay clients. There seems little chance therefore that people suckered in by the adverts will see any of their money back.
The MoJ could only advise: "If you are a customer of CCR your agreement with them, as with any provider, is a private contractual matter between yourself and the provider in which MoJ cannot intervene directly because it is not a regulatory matter for which MoJ has responsibility." In other words, tough.
Other claims management firms are already circulating over Cartel's carcass with one dodgy outfit proclaiming: "Been screwed by Cartel Client Review? We will take over your case." Sadly such opportunism is likely to be rewarded by confused people tempted by the chance of getting their fees back, when all they're likely to get is fleeced of even more cash.
There are lessons for everyone involved in this sorry tale. The claims management industry has come under criticsm from all sides since it started just over two years ago, yet the MoJ still went ahead and issued trading licenses to hundreds of firms. It has subsequently shut down several, but the principle that almost anyone can set themselves up to offer people what is perceived as financial advice is totally wrong. Anyone who has turned to these firms for help has been misadvised and probably have lost money.
On the other side of things why have so many people felt the need to turn to these firms? Largely in desperation, I suspect. Some may have foolishly believed they could walk away from their debt, but most were tempted by what they thought of as a legitimate way to take on their banks and credit card companies and their excessive charges. If it had been legitimate, would the charges have been so high?
A fond farewell to unwanted cheques
MBNA has announced plans to scrap credit card cheques from the end of the month. It should have happened years ago. The cheques have been sent out unrequested to credit card holders for years. While most people have simply torn them up, struggling folk have been tempted to borrow extra cash.
But the price has always been high and those who have been tempted are often those who can ill-afford to do so. A £500 cheque could easily spiral by an additional £150 in just 12 months once the fees – at 3 per cent – were added to interest at 28 per cent.
"Sending these cheques to people with little financial discipline or willpower was akin to posting bars of chocolate through a school letterbox," says Andrew Hagger of Moneynet.co.uk.
The other issue with them was security. Because recipients didn't know when they were sent, they would have no clue if they were stolen until the bills started arriving. Although the credit card companies would have been liable for any losses, there was still the inconvenience.
So let's hope others follow MBNA's move and end the blight of the unwanted and expensive credit card cheque.
- 1 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 2 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 3 French woman dies in freak bungee jumping accident
- 4 Greece crisis: Crowdfunding campaign crashes Indiegogo, raises half a million in just three days
- 5 Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck to divorce and end their 10-year marriage
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
iJobs Money & Business
£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....
£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...
£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...
Day In a Page
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.
Less than five miles from Malmesbury, this four-bedroom cottage comes with equestrian facilities and gardens that extend to approximately three acres.
Spanning three storeys, this late-Victorian five-bedroom farmhouse is a spacious family home with a modern interior and B&B potential.
With an original church arch, this triplex one-bedroom church conversion has a light, spacious, feel and comes with a secure off-street parking space.
This recently-refurbished three-bedroom home has bi-folding doors that lead out to a decked seating area - ideal for alfresco dining this summer.
Well-located for coastal walks and popular restaurants, this detached four-bedroom home offers views over farmland, to the Solent, the Purbecks and Bournemouth.
If you love high ceilings, school conversions like this one are bang on the money. This two-bedroom flat is minutes from Burgess Park and the foodie haven at Borough Market.
Set within a church conversion in Bermondsey, this two-bedroom maisonette combines existing features, such as original arches and brickwork, with a contemporary finish.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
This four-bedroom home offers a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining with doors that open to the patio and garden.
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.