Julian Knight: Halifax's £500m payout is too late for some

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The Independent Online

What with the Arab spring and the earthquake in Christchurch you'd be forgiven for having missed the fact that Halifax is to pay out the biggest ever sum in consumer compensation in UK corporate history.

Up to 300,000 mortgage customers can expect to share £500m because the Halifax failed to inform borrowers that it was increasing the cap on its standard variable rate mortgage. Halifax's move is being spun as somehow proactive, an example of a regulator engaging with a wrongdoer and coming to an agreement that is good for customers.

On the flip side, though, it could be seen as a bank which has been caught bang to rights and was systematically draining money from its customers for three years. The dates are significant in this too: the "mistake" carried on between 2004 and 2007 when the Halifax was also busy writing such atrociously bad mortgage business that it needed rescuing by Lloyds and then the taxpayer. It's only now with Halifax substantially under state control that it finally agrees to pay the price for to its misdemeanour. There is no doubt that there are families out there who would now still be in their homes and wouldn't have been repossessed if the Halifax had from the start played fair over it rates.

Executor greed

The big four banks have agreed with the Office of Fair Trading to review the gross charges they levy for acting as an executor on an estate. As this paper revealed more than a year ago, these charges can swallow up to 5 per cent of a dead person's estate for very little in return. What's more, when asked to step aside as executor – so to minimise cost – by the relatives of the deceased, banks have fought tooth and nail to keep their fees. For too long banks have been overcharging at this most sensitive of times and it's great news that finally this practice is coming into focus.

Left out in the cold

Not too long ago I had to look for a rental flat for a friend of mine. Nothing prepared me for the lack of professionalism of some agents and dishonesty of some landlords. References were charged for but not taken and on more than one occasion the landlord withdrew at the last minute. The attitude to renters is like it or lump it.

Now the soon to be defunct Consumer Focus has said that there needs to be a little redressing of the balance. Its idea is for a ratings website where tenants can let other people know how good a landlord or letting agent is. If landlords can take references regarding tenants; surely tenants should be able to do the same. This so-called "reputational regulation" works so well in other areas such as holidays so why not with renting? The only thing wrong with this proposal is that it wants the rental industry to set all this up. This looks like a prime business idea for an entrepreneur.

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