Ombudsmen can pass the buck too: Mediators seemed powerless to help a Blackpool solicitor

Click to follow
The Independent Online
KEITH CARTMELL is not a happy man. The Abbey National kept him waiting for 10 months for a simple statement of what had happened to the sale proceeds of a repossessed house.

His annoyance with the Abbey has turned to despair with the ombudsman system, which has been powerless to do anything about the Abbey's lack of action. His case shows the limitations of the building society and banking ombudsman schemes.

Mr Cartmell is a solicitor in Blackpool. In 1988 he acted for a client who bought a house with the help of a pounds 76,000 mortgage from the Abbey National. At the time there was substantial equity in the property.

Subsequently, Mr Cartmell did some more work for the client, who then disappeared, leaving some of Mr Cartmell's fees outstanding. He went to court and obtained a judgment against the client. On 13 April 1993 he got a charging order on the property.

'In simple terms a charging order means there is a caution on the property at the Land Registry,' Mr Cartmell said.

'In the event of the property being sold, everyone who inspects the property register knows of your existence, and hopefully you should be paid out of the sale proceeds. The charging order was only for a small amount, just over pounds 200, but I was prepared to wait for it to come home to roost one day.'

Events moved rather sooner than Mr Cartmell had anticipated. On 24 June he received a telephone call from a firm of solicitors acting for the Abbey National. The property had been repossessed and was being sold. But there was no money left for him.

Mr Cartmell was somewhat surprised. He asked for details of the sale price and for a breakdown of what was being paid out. The solicitors agreed to pass his request to the Abbey. Mr Cartmell heard nothing. Then, on 22 July, he got a note from the Land Registry. His caution had been cancelled because the Abbey had sold the property.

He wrote to the Abbey's solicitors and asked again for the financial breakdown. The solicitors replied that they could not find out any information from the Abbey.

After two more letters to the Abbey's solicitors and no reply, Mr Cartmell was becoming increasingly agitated.

'There is one thing in life I cannot stand and that is being ignored,' he said. 'All I wanted was a statement - to which I was perfectly entitled.'

Mr Cartmell decided to approach the ombudsmen to see if they could put pressure on the Abbey. His first stop was the Building Society Ombudsman. He could not help since the Abbey National is now a bank.

But even if a building society had been involved, the Ombudsman would have been powerless to intervene. He can only look into disputes brought by a borrower or an investor who has an account with a society. Mr Cartmell was neither.

A spokesman for the Building Society Ombudsman said: 'It does leave people in that position without anywhere to go. It is very unfortunate.'

Mr Cartmell redirected his plea to the Banking Ombudsman. 'Greater dismay followed,' Mr Cartmell said. 'The Banking Ombudsman said he could not help; it was outside his terms of reference because the Abbey was not providing me with a banking service.'

The situation was getting out of hand. It was precisely because Abbey National had not provided a service to Mr Cartmell that he was complaining at all.

The Banking Ombudsman was unable to comment. A spokesman for the British Bankers' Association, the banks trade union, said: 'The Banking Ombudsman can deal with any complaint that arises from the provision of a service by a bank to any individual who requires that service.'

Meanwhile, Mr Cartmell decided to write to his MP, Michael Jack. Mr Jack also got nowhere with the ombudsmen, but he did write to Lord Tugendhat, the Chairman of Abbey National.

Suddenly, after all those months, the Abbey managed to put pen to paper. Apologies were proffered from Lord Tugendhat for not replying to the initial enquiry and letter and for 'the shortcomings in our service'.

However, it was only last week, more than two months after Lord Tugendhat's letter, that Mr Cartmell finally received his statement.

Mr Cartmell said: ''There is no money left, which I guessed all along. But pursuing the matter makes you realise just how difficult it is to get redress if people just ignore you, and how ineffective the ombudsmen can be.

'I am sure if Mr Jack had not intervened, I would still be waiting.'

A spokesman for the Abbey said that the problems had been caused by clerical errors.

(Photograph omitted)