Consumer rights: "A mis-typed digit left me stressed and out of pocket"
Homebuyer fights bank to get savings needed to complete deal in time ... Joint tenants fall out over returned deposit
Sunday 19 September 2010
Q. On Saturday, 7 August I visited the Halifax with my passport, to close my savings account and withdraw the full amount to contribute towards the completion of our house purchase the following Friday. I was told that I could only access my money by a phone call. Now, 13 days later I am still waiting for my money to be transferred to HSBC.
I have been in several phone conversations with different people at the bank, I have been passed from adviser to adviser and have been promised several times that things would be sorted out, or were sorted out, that the money had already been transferred, or that the money would be with us on time for the completion. It wasn't.
In the end we faced losing the flat, our deposit and moving costs to date. We had no choice but to borrow from friends and family, and my fiancé had to go significantly overdrawn on his current account – his account is still overdrawn by £2,000. We owe a friend £5,000 lent on trust that it would be repaid within 48 hours, and my pensioner father £8,000. Having been put into a situation where we could have easily lost everything entirely due to the bank's negligence, we felt we got no sympathy, assistance or cooperation.
On Friday, 13 August after completion, I called the Halifax and was told that the account was closed, nothing could be done, and that the funds had been transferred. Further calls confirmed the account had been closed and funds transferred but to date – 20 August – they still haven't materialised. I have complained to the ombudsman and am seeking advice from a lawyer on any compensation I should be due in addition to the refunding of costs incurred. How can this happen and what can I do to resolve it?
A. I know that the money was eventually paid – three weeks after you requested it. I have a lot more detail in the full version of your letter and can only imagine how stressful this has been. However since you wrote the Halifax has investigated internally and their spokesperson says: "We are sorry for the distress and inconvenience this has caused. Unfortunately a member of staff made an error when transferring the money and an incorrect sort code was keyed in. The service we provided on this occasion was not at the level we expect and as a result we have agreed to cover any legitimate costs incurred as a result of this mistake. An offer of compensation has also been made."
I hope you're happy with the offer. Hundreds of thousands of bank transactions go through every day without a hitch. Unfortunately some do go wrong – usually, like yours, because of human error. Because of the amount of money involved, and the reason for the transfer, you spotted the problem quickly but it underlines the importance of always checking that money has ended up in the right place.
Q. I've been sharing a flat for six months with a couple. To begin with it was fine but recently it got more difficult. So I have moved out. However, getting my share of the deposit back has been a nightmare. I originally paid the money to the letting agent and assumed I'd get it back from him. But the agent said that as the tenancy was carrying on I would be paid by my flatmates. We were already having a difference of opinion about how much I owed on utility bills and so instead of giving me my share of the deposit, and resolving the bills dispute separately, they paid me my deposit minus the amount they calculated I owed. Even if I ultimately agree that I owe what they say I owe, it can't be right that they are responsible for my deposit. They could withhold any amount and I'd have to fight to get it back. I don't owe as much as they've deducted so what do I do now? I thought paying the agent avoided this kind of problem?
A. It looks like the agent has been trying to take the most practical approach. I can't be absolutely sure but it sounds likely that by giving notice to move out, in effect you were giving notice for all three of you. In that case the agent would have to create a new tenancy agreement for the couple. The deposit would be returned and then have to be repaid in full by the couple and they would have to move out so that the property and the itinerary could be checked, before moving back in. The agent has avoided the legalistic route by passing on responsibility for the deposit to the remaining tenants. While it's practical it isn't necessarily best practice and one of the pitfalls is the problem you've experienced.
Ian Potter, the operations manager at the Association of Residential Lettings Agents, says your deposit should be protected under a Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme as the tenancy didn't start before April 2007 and the rent was less than £25,000 a year. He advises you to lodge a claim with the scheme named on the tenancy agreement. He also advises you to use the agent's internal complaints procedure to try to resolve this and if that doesn't get you a satisfactory outcome then contact the Property Ombudsman (see www.tpos.co.uk).
And next time, go through tenancy agreement with a fine-tooth comb.
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