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Spend & Save

Questions of Cash: Car accident that put me on a collision course with solicitors


Q. I was a passenger in a car accident two years ago. Spencers solicitors in Chesterfield acted on behalf of the driver, and sent me paperwork to make a claim for compensation. I signed the paperwork and visited a doctor for a claim of about £2,500. Spencers did not receive the first set of papers.

As a result, they said they would take me to court for their costs, which amounted to the same value as the compensation claim. I asked Spencers how I could avoid having my belongings taken away by bailiffs and they told me that I could reinstruct them, avoiding further costs and then obtaining compensation.

I sent the paperwork in again and expected a compensation payment. Instead I have now been sent a letter, again stating that they have not received the signed paperwork. Now Spencers, who were acting on my behalf, are to instruct the court and bailiffs to collect costs of £2,500. When I contacted them in panic, I was told they would not act on my behalf again, but would accept a payment of £498 to put the matter to rest. CT, London.

A. Your version of events is not accepted by Spencers. Given the conflicting interpretations of what happened, we are not in a position to take a view on which party is in the right. With the benefit of hindsight, you should have sent the papers to the solicitors by recorded delivery. We suggested to Spencers that as the problem appeared – from your version of events – to have come about through a loss of mail and a misunderstanding, it would be helpful if the matter could be resolved by the papers being signed again and Spencers pursuing that matter on your behalf. Spencers said it could not act for you having obtained a court judgment against you.

Robert Landman, chief financial officer of Spencers solicitors, says: "Unfortunately, we are limited in the extent to which we can respond in detail due to us being strictly bound by the Solicitors Regulation Authority professional code of conduct, one aspect of which is client confidentiality... As confirmed to you, we were instructed to pursue a claim for compensation on behalf of [the reader].

"We took full instructions, prepared relevant documents, commenced the claim and arranged a medical examination. Spencers spent appropriate time on the claim and incurred relevant expenses. After exhaustive but unsuccessful attempts to obtain [the reader's] ongoing instructions through correspondence and telephone calls over three-and-a-half months, [the reader] was clearly in breach of the terms of her contract by failing to co-operate in the provision or collection of information relevant to the claim. Spencers consequently commenced proceedings to recover its costs and expenses, in full adherence to our terms of business.

"We firmly believe that we have acted professionally throughout this case, as we do for all our clients. In an effort to seek a resolution to this matter, Spencers had already agreed with [the reader] to waive its basic charges and accept payment only for expenses incurred, and she had agreed to this. For this reason, we were surprised when [the reader] decided to make this matter public."

You seem to have three avenues available to you. One is to pay Spencers' reduced charges. The alternatives are to seek further independent advice, such as that from Citizens Advice, or pursue a complaint through the Legal Ombudsman.

Q. On Good Friday, I tried to withdraw cash from an HBOS cashpoint in Marchmont, Edinburgh . The ATM accepted my card, PIN and cash request but then whirred and retained my card without dispensing cash. It displayed a message saying that a system error meant that the ATM was being withdrawn from service.

While standing at the ATM, I phoned HBOS using the number displayed above the machine, and reported the error. The person I spoke to refused to make any note of my call, saying that as I am not an HBOS customer I had to phone my own bank. Within 20 minutes I phoned my bank, Smile, and cancelled my card. Smile assured me there was no reason why my card should have been retained.

My next bank statement showed that three cash withdrawals had been made from another ATM a few yards away from the HBOS ATM immediately after my card had been taken. Smile refunded the loss without question, but if HBOS had immediately investigated my complaint they would have discovered the criminal fraud taking place. DH, West Midlands.

A. A skimming device was fitted to the front of the HBOS ATM, enabling criminals to conduct the fraud. HBOS has listened to the recording of your call: you said the ATM was "broken and there was an error message". Neither you nor HBOS were aware a fraud was taking place. As a result, HBOS says its staff member was correct in not taking any further action beyond advising you to contact your own bank to arrange for your card to be cancelled.

However, it agrees that the staff member should have logged your call, though this would, it seems, not have made any difference. A spokeswoman for HBOS says: "We can confirm the Bank of Scotland Marchmont ATM was recently affected by a skimming device. We sincerely apologise to [the reader] for the poor service he received when he called to report the fault, and can confirm we are investigating the matter."

HBOS became aware of the skimming device only when a customer reported this when the branch reopened after the long weekend. We asked the bank what a person should do when they find a skimming device attached to an ATM. Its suggested action is identical to what you did – except you did not specify that a skimming device was attached. As you were unaware of that, it is difficult to see what else you could have done.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@independent.co.uk