Questions of Cash: Overseas move left account drowning in overdraft fees


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Q. I left the UK permanently in June 2014 and I didn't close my NatWest bank account. None of my post was redirected. My account was last used on 15 August and it inadvertently went into an unauthorised overdraft of £6.52, including interest, after I was charged for using my card abroad. I realised this only when I recently viewed my account online. Penalty charges were added, resulting in an overdraft of £264.52.

I submitted an online complaint to NatWest, offering to pay 20 per cent of the charges – £51.60. NatWest rejected my offer and said it "hoped it would not be necessary to contact the ombudsman". I recently wrote to my original branch of NatWest instructing it to close the account as I had transferred the £6.52, the initial overdraft amount. I actually transferred £9.01, to allow for currency conversion costs. The overdraft on my account is now £255.51. I find the charges grossly unfair and disproportionate. GM, Carlow, Ireland.

A. Technically you are in the wrong, as you should have formally closed the account and ensured that you cleared any amount owing to the bank. But we are sympathetic, given the size of the penalty charges.

Your situation illustrates how unauthorised overdraft penalty charges accumulate at an awful rate. NatWest points out that these charges were imposed in line with the published fees on its current accounts. But the good news is that the bank has agreed to cancel the charges.

A spokeswoman explains: "We apologise to [the reader] that he discovered fees on his account that he didn't expect. When he left the UK, his account was in overdraft for some months and unfortunately we weren't made aware that he had moved. Given the circumstances, we have refunded all fees and closed his account."

Q. I owe money to a company called Veolia. I am now receiving demands for payment from Buchanan, Clark and Wells, a debt collection company. I am not convinced that I owe as much as they say. And I am being charged an administration fee and interest on the loan. Is there anything you can do? RR, by email.

A. Mick Mills of Buchanan, Clark and Wells says: "I am unable to discuss the details of the case with you without express permission. However, in this case, I can say that in all dealings with us, [the reader] has engaged constructively. I would also clarify that the issue is not that the debt is unknown to her, but that [the reader] has, with full justification within her rights, requested details of relevant bills, etc. She is also querying the charges applied. We... continue to liaise directly with [the reader]."

We then contacted Veolia providing your explicit email authorisation for the company to discuss the debt. However, Veolia insisted that it could only act on this if was in written format and signed. You tell us that you provided this to Veolia by letter. Veolia says it has never received it. You have not replied to our latest communications, while Veolia stands by its position of not discussing your account with us.

Q. I live in Thailand and last summer made a number of purchases that included VAT. The agents of HM Revenue & Customs at Heathrow Airport are Travelex, which promised me a refund within six weeks of 1 July. I am due £700. Travelex has failed to confirm that an application has been made; its estimate of how long it will take is whimsical; and it has failed to take responsibility for the assurances it gave me. ML, Thailand

A. We have contacted Travelex repeatedly. While Travelex did contact us on one occasion to assure us that the matter was being resolved, we have been unable to obtain a statement to explain what went wrong. You tell us that you have now received the VAT refund in full.

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