No action in row over wrong shares

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THE Banking Ombudsman yesterday told irate customers he could not intervene where customers of converting building societies have been allocated too many free shares.

It came after reports suggesting some of these banks, including the Halifax and Woolwich, were pursuing customers to pay back shares wrongly allocated to them. The Ombudsman office said: "This is outside our remit ... We do not get involved with disputes between these banks and their shareholders."

The Ombudsman could only become involved where a bank misadvised customers, which led to them not receiving share allocations.

The Halifax and Woolwich confirmed they are reclaiming shares, but denied they would dip into customers' accounts to obtain the money owed to them. Problems are arising, as some customers have sold the shares, and the banks concerned are demanding the money back.

A spokeswoman for the Woolwich said: "We do not expect a lump sum all in one go, and if customers are having problems paying this, then in most cases individual arrangements can be made."

The Halifax and Woolwich said they were reclaiming shares from a "small percentage" of customers, though they both declined to say how many were involved. The Halifax said it was "unlikely" that thousands of their customers were affected.