25 pointers on how to get a bank to take your complaint seriously – and how to keep going until they do.

I found this document last night when I was trailing through old files. I wrote this back in June 2012 and decided it might be helpful to some people so I’ve given it a slight update. It’s an extract from a book I was writing called ‘A consumer guide to dealing with banks, bailiffs and other bullies.’ Maybe I will finish it one day.

June 2012 was a very tough time for Paul and I and our family because in April we’d been visited by a senior enforcement officer of the FSA (now FCA) who insisted we should tell Lloyds Banking Group what we wanted after all we’d been through (regarding matters related to HBOS Reading). He implied the Bank would finally compensate us and he said the FSA knew we were very entitled to compensation. But it didn’t happen. We wrote to the bank and they wrote back with the V sign – as in “vattene fanculo” which is a very rude colloquial Italian phrase to say get lost. So, after 5 years battling, we had 5 minutes of hope which was very quickly dashed. That’s why I wrote the document below – to help anyone else in the same boat and to stop similar disappointment.

Times have moved on a lot since then and where as a victim of financial crime used to struggle to expose what was happening, nowadays some of the big banks expose their crimes for us! Everyday the papers have a new banking scandal in them and the regulators, the Government and the public are all aware that some banks have a serious propensity to dishonesty.

Fortunately this blatant misbehaviour has meant bank culture has had to start changing (a tiny bit) and, better still, we have some new players in the market place like Metro Bank who are gaining popularity exactly because they don’t have a business model which sets out to mistreat its customers or SMEs.

All the same, many of us still have serious and unresolved issues with our banks and everyday I hear about more cases where people are really struggling to keep going or, in some cases, keep their sanity in the face of very unethical behaviour by banks. So I hope these pointers which are entirely my own thoughts after living through 7 years of outrageous treatment from HBOS and Lloyds Banking Group, will help anyone newly acquainted with bad banking practice!

  1. What you’re up against – the 3 D’s.

    Many bank’s rely on a policy of 3 D’s – deny, delay, dilute. When you first realise you’re up against multi billion pound corporation who is going to; deny everything you say; take months to reply to you; delay any resolution for years and; dilute your case by muddying the waters with legal technicalities, you will, quite naturally, feel despondent and impotent. That is the first hurdle to get over. Be aware this is what they are likely to do. Expect it. The quicker you do, the quicker you can get on with challenging their tactics.

  2. Do your research.

    Make sure you have your facts 100% right – not only about your case but also that you know exactly what you can really expect from your bank and what their obligations really are, as opposed to what you think you can expect. For example, a banks’ primary duty is to its shareholders and not to its customers. Also, however boring it is, read and reread every document you have from the bank. Then cross reference it with their code of conduct, the BBA code of conduct and the FSA Principles. Most of the codes are voluntary (FSMA rules are not) but even so, it helps to document in writing to the senior people at the bank exactly how many of the voluntary codes their bank has broken. It sounds complicated – it’s not that bad. And if you’re in it for the long haul, things like the FSA principles and FSMA 2000 will become regular reading to you. Although having said that, almost every example of malpractice can be shot down with Principle 1 of the FSA Principles: “A Firm must conduct its business with integrity.”

  3. Make a complaint in writing to the banks internal complaints department.

    Very often a waste of time and you will almost certainly get a negative reply but, if you don’t go through this process, everyone, including the regulators will have an excuse not to look at your complaint until you have.

  1. Write politely but firmly to senior executives of the bank, the CEO and the Chairman.

    If you are sending your correspondence electronically, always ask for a read receipt and if you’re sending by post, ask for an acknowledgement of receipt as well as a rely. You might also consider sending correspondence by registered post. The fact you can confirm they definitely received your correspondence can be very helpful later as they cannot deny someone knows what the content was. Also, make the point in your letter or e-mail, over and above the fact you would like the Board or the executives to deal with your complaint, you are writing because you want to be sure your complaint or allegation is on the record at the most senior level of the bank. Finally, be sure to keep any reply in a secure place – there is little as helpful as the banks own words over a period of time. Even if most replies you get say they have already dealt with your complaint and “we do not intend to correspond further” that can still be helpful. I have a pile of such replies – which all look rather silly and lacking in integrity (FSA Principle 1) now 10 people are being prosecuted with criminal charges in the HBOS Reading case.

  2. What to expect or not expect from the regulators. FSA (FCA) and FOS

    In the case of an individual complaint, the FSA (now FCA) http://www.fca.org.uk/ will almost certainly send a reply telling you they do not deal with individual cases. Nevertheless, send a very detailed explanation of your complaint to the FCA – as it may end up as a systemic issue which they later have to deal with. When sending your complaint to the FOS http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/ , be aware they are limited as to the compensation they can award (£150k) even if they do find for you. So an SME for example, which may have lost considerably more, cannot get a resolution through the FOS. All the same, it’s another box ticking exercise and I would advise you to tick them both.

  1. Document everything.

    Very important. Take notes on every conversation you have with people in the bank, the regulators, your MP and, if applicable, the police. If you have conversations with people who are giving you information or evidence relating to your case, send them your notes of the conversation and ask them to verify that you have your facts correct. Keep all your notes and correspondence safe and in order – you may need to refer to them years later and it’s not helpful to find you’ve destroyed or lost potentially critical evidence. This has been one of our best tools. People contradict themselves all the time and very often they completely forget they’ve said black is white and say it’s pink. We know what people said about HBOS Reading back in 2007/2008 because we wrote it down. Many of them don’t remember.

  1. If your complaint involves fraud or the possibility of criminal actions, try to identify other potential victims.

    Get in contact with them and pool your information. Then give your collective information to your MPs, the regulators, the police and authorities like the Treasury Select Committee. If you try and give your information individually, most of the authorities will tell you they cannot look at individual cases. It’s much harder for them to ignore you when you have evidence of many similar fact cases.

  1. Collect evidence and case law that will help you.

    If you do identify similar cases (even if they are not directly related to your case) collect case evidence and case law because, should you have to resort to the civil courts, which is a dangerous route, the bank will rely heavily on case law that’s beneficial to them and legal technicalities that may confuse you and manipulate the court. You may not be a lawyer (although you can still research case law yourself in Bailii http://www.bailii.org/) but if you can collect evidence from other victims of similar cases, it can help your case. And even if some judges (and certainly the banks barristers) will refuse to consider it on the grounds it is irrelevant to your case, it will still go on the record and in the transcript. So it’s worth saying out loud e.g “I have here 10 examples of similar practice from this bank supplied by other victims.” Almost certainly not court protocol but then neither is it court protocol to deliberately mislead a judge – and I have seen HBOS legal teams do this repeatedly.

  2. If you get to the stage where your MP is involved, copy him or her in on all your letters to the bank and the replies you get.

    Some MPs are real champions of the underdog but unfortunately, not all of them are happy to get involved with financial disputes against big banks. But if you are suffering from a genuine injustice, your MP has a duty to assist you http://www.ukpolitical.info/YouandyourMP.htm . So don’t ever let them make you feel you are a nuisance. And if they do, I suggest you copy every letter to and from your MP to third parties like the regulators or, if you feel you are being particularly badly treated, to the Prime Minister.

  1. Use the many tools available on the internet to collect additional evidence

    You can get details of companies and directorships on Companies House http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk//wcframe?name=accessCompanyInfo which can be very helpful but it does cost £1.00 per document and, in the case of a very big fraud, you may end up needing hundreds of documents you simply can’t afford. There are other sites that can give you the same equally valuable information, especially with regard to directorships, which, while they charge an annual fee, can work out cheaper. The best one we found back in 2011/12 was Creditsafe http://www2.creditsafeuk.com/ . But now you can get most of the information you need free from Dellam http://www.dellam.com/cgi-bin/main.pl or better still Duedil https://www.duedil.com/ You will still have to pay for company accounts etc but you will be able to see directorships, shareholders and debentures. If you’re prepared to put in the time going through the information on (e.g) Duedil, the paper trail you uncover can help show you the bigger picture.

  1. If you believe and have proof someone in the bank has committed an illegal act, report it immediately to your local police or to the fraud squad.

    In many cases the police will tell you your complaint or your allegations are a civil matter – we were told that in the HBOS Reading case where the Cambridge police would not investigate our allegations simply because the bank told them there was nothing to investigate. Stand your ground. Don’t take no for an answer. Write to the police giving a clear statement of the crime you believe has been committed and listing the evidence you have to support it. Copy your letter to your MP and the FSA. Ask for a crime number and remind the police they have sworn an oath to “… prevent all offences against people and property” http://srchtag.com/ex/vfc2nonclymg2yi.html .

  1. Dig in and adapt your living standards to suit your circumstances until you reach a resolution.

    It could take years to finally get a resolution or compensation from a bank and many banks believe their policy of ‘delay, deny, dilute’ will cause many complaints or allegations to simply disappear – which they do. People get old, get ill, cannot bear the stress, simply give up or in some cases they die. It’s an effective and immoral way for banks to minimise the cases against them. If you want to win, you need to have the right mind set and you must learn to live without things you are used to having and also learn to appreciate some things you have taken for granted. Make the most of every positive in your life however tiny. It’s the small positives which can keep you going in times of immense stress and even a bank can’t take them from you.

  1. Try and keep on top of everyday bills that could potentially cause you massive problems.

    If you find yourself running out of money because of what your bank has done (common problem) you still have to stay on top of daily issues or you will end up being the one in Court! One such example is Council tax. Make sure your local council know about your reduced circumstances and that they reduce your council tax accordingly. If you don’t, you could find bailiffs on your doorstep. Where you know you will have problems paying your creditors, try to keep them informed about what is happening. People can be amazingly accommodating, considerate and supportive, if they know you are suffering real injustice. Similarly, they can be very aggressive if they don’t know what you are going through and feel you are merely trying to take advantage of them.

    In the really unfortunate event your debts escalate to the point of bailiffs attending your property (which is so offensive to when you have to struggle so hard to get authorities to take action against financial crime) it’s really important you know your rights because some bailiffs will unfortunately misrepresent them to gain access to your home: http://www.advicenow.org.uk/advicenow-guides/consumer-and-money-problems/dealing-with-bailiffs/if-bailiffs-knock-on-your-door-html,620,FP.html Worse still, if for any reason (including the consequences of bank malpractice) your lender or land lord threatens to evict you, you must also know your rights. http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/eviction

  1. Contact your local press and give them the details of your case but be wary of approaching the national press unless you can forge a positive relationship with the journalists.

    Try and get your local press to cover your story. Give them regular updates and include issues of human interest especially if, as in our case, your situation with the bank results in eviction hearings or Court proceedings. But be very wary of approaching the national press.Good investigative journalists are few and far between whereas advertising budgets supported by banks and corporate bodies are ever more desirable to an industry that is plagued by modern technology which increasingly reduces its budgets. We know to our cost that some journalists who have had chapter and verse on the HBOS Reading story have gone on to write stories that were completely incorrect as to fact and have gone out of their way to make the victims look like the fraudsters.Having said that, we have also been lucky enough to come across some exceptional journalists who have been enormously supportive and fortunately, I would say now, in 2015 we are getting to the stage where more journalists are aware you are likely to be telling the truth about bank malpractice. All the same, when considering the main stream press, its a good idea to check out who is on the Board (past and present directors or non executive directors) of newspapers.

  1. Set up a blog site and put the details of your case and your allegations on it.

    Invite people with similar situations to get in contact with you. Be very careful however, not to publish your allegations or to defame people unless you are 101% sure you are right. While you cannot be accused of defamatory behaviour if what you publish is based on irrefutable proof, banks and individuals in banks or financial institutions, may well have legal teams capable of highlighting even the most minor flaw in your argument  that is capable of challenge. So be very careful what you write. Down the road, the bank or its lawyers could take your words and make them your worst enemy.

  2. Use social media to your advantage.

    One thing banks (or even Governments) didn’t factor in after the credit crunch was the phenomenal rise of social media. Use it to your maximum advantage. Get google alerts for the bank you’re complaining about; tweet the articles; look at the people who re-tweet you or who tweet on similar subjects. Add them to your followers on twitter or Facebook. Share information with them. Social media is maybe the most useful tools you have so make the most of it.

  1. Be very tolerant of your family or people who are living in stressful circumstances because of the situation the bank has put you in.

    If ever there is a time you will need your family, it’s when you are fighting a major battle with a bank or corporation with no morals and deep pockets. Even family turmoil is to their advantage as it will stop you focusing on the real battle and cause you immense distress. It’s easy to play the blame game and for families to be at each others throats when every thing goes wrong and you are all stressed. Don’t give banks that pleasure. Close ranks – stick together and think of your family as your army and your support. Sadly, if your battle goes on for years, you may find you lose a few friends along the way because people will get sick of hearing you repeatedly talking about your case. Also, you may no longer be able to afford to do the things you used to do with your friends (restaurants, holidays etc) so you may just drift apart. Even more reason to be very tolerant of your family. They can’t walk away and they are probably living through the nightmare with you.

  2. Don’t be arrogant – leave that to your opponents.

    Anger, outrage or encouragement and support from friends or family can sometimes make you feel you can publicise every tiny breakthrough as a major victory. Don’t go there. You won’t feel so arrogant when two years down the road you’re still struggling and the bank executives are still coining in the millions. It’s tough I know, but leave the arrogance to your opponents. If possible, encourage them to be arrogant in writing or better still to tell blatant lies in writing. Keep your powder dry and your day will come. Also, regardless of how angry you are, try to be dignified and professional in your dealings with the bank (even when they’re not). Banks love it when people come across as highly emotional and slightly erratic. We know of several very good cases where victims have been their own worst enemies and especially in court rooms where judges have little tolerance for unprofessional or aggressive behaviour. It gives credence to the idea you may be unreliable.

  1. Be wary of false promises or men baring gifts.

    Don’t think, because the bank, or the bank’s lawyers, or a regulator or anyone else gives the impression they are suddenly sympathetic to your cause, that you can afford to drop your guard. Nothing is over until it’s over but banks will try to placate you, albeit temporarily, if they have other pressing situations going on which you could, if you were aware of them, make worse. They tend to blow hot and cold according to their own situations but at the end of the day, the protection of their brand and the protection of those people highest up in the chain, is their primary interest. Contrary to what their code of conduct says, some banks are not at all interested in their clients – unless those clients either owe them billions of pounds or can implicate their senior executives in shady dealings.

  2. Be very wary of taking the legal route.

    One thing banks definitely have in their favour is their ability to pay vast sums of (shareholders) money for good legal brains. You, on the other hand, because of your circumstances and unless you go into battle as a multi millionaire (in which instance a bank would almost certainly give you more millions rather than challenge your allegations against them), will possibly be a litigant in person. So going to court against a bank is like being thrown into the lion’s den. Even if you can find a law firm to represent you on a CFA basis (conditional fee agreement) you will always play second fiddle to their paying clients and you really really need to be very careful when choosing your lawyers. Yes, there are good ones out there – but legal firms are not charitable organisations. If you run out of money, many of them run out of advice or sympathy simply because they are also businesses and need to pay their staff. Your catastrophe is yours, not theirs. So don’t expect morality to come into it because in most cases – it’s just business.

    Equally worrying is the new game on the block whereby third party funders will take your case forward because they can see you have a valid case which might bring about lucrative results – but buyer beware, by the time you have paid your legal fees and your third party funders, you could find yourself in a Jaundyce and Jaundyce situation – you fight for years and get nothing. This is why banks love the playing field of the court room. Even without the disturbing proposition that justice is very often in need of Spec Savers these days and some Judges seem ill advised if not illogical, banks know that the Court room is, in general, their play ground not yours – unless it is a criminal trial, But even then you must be wary.

    Having said that, we have won most of our 22 eviction hearings as litigants in person and in some of them we were up against the Vice Chairman of a huge London law firm as well as the banks barristers. So it can be done and we still have our home but we did have the advantage of bundles of evidence we had collected about events originating at HBOS Reading. Not many judges wanted to evict us until that was resolved – although one did.

  1. If you feel yourself becoming seriously depressed, get treatment.

    Remember that depression is a common complaint for whistle blowers or anyone taking on a bank or corporate. This is a subject I’ve heard discussed at length by well known whistle blowers and victims of Corporate fraud and I know many people who have suffered terribly from depression. There is no stigma to falling into depression when a bank has ruined your life – it’s actually very normal. So if you feel yourself going down that route, get help asap (and while we still have the NHS) http://www.depressionuk.org/national_links.shtml and, if you do have treatment, make sure the bank, your MP, your local council, your creditors and any regulators you are writing to, are aware of that treatment and why you are having it.

  1. Don’t give yourself time scales.

    The fact you have conclusive evidence of negligence, misrepresentation of even fraud, means surprisingly little to some banks. Whatever happens to you will not, sadly, stop the senior exec’s, getting their mega pay and bonuses. Therefore, they have no interest or concept of what you are going through but they do know, the longer you go though it, the more likely it is you will give up. However confident you are, never tell yourself this will be over in 3 months, 6 months, a year. We did and here we are 7 years later still going through it. Just keep going. If you are in the right and if you are resilient, then one day it will be over but only when you have worn the bank down as much as they’ve worn you down – or, if you’re really lucky, the authorities will make the bank resolve matters. That can take a while and you will only disappoint yourself and your family if you try to predict that time scale.

  2. Remind yourself on a daily basis that, whatever the bank says, you can win if you don’t give up.

    Most banks don’t have moral stamina, they just have money and lawyers and they change their lawyers as often as you change your socks. They also change their management, their policies and even their CEO’s on a regular basis. Sooner or later and if you are persistent, you may even come across a CEO who has heard of damage management. You never know and neither do I but it could happen and we live in hope?

  3. Weigh up your options.

    Really taking on a bank can take years out of your life which I know to my cost. Even if you win in the end and get some or all of the compensation you want, no one can give you those years back. In the case of Paul and I, we had no choice. The bank destroyed our business and, when we exposed the corruption behind this, they also tried to take our home. We had no option but to keep fighting. Neither would we give in to supposed resolutions that were, in effect, no more than bank housekeeping and of no advantage to us or any other victim of HBOS Reading. So we have kept fighting. That was our decision and one that we and our family have paid heavily for but which we wouldn’t change. We have been defrauded – we are in the right and we will never give up until we have won; or reached a consensual agreement; or, in the event that never happens, have fully exposed every detail of HBOS Reading that we have uncovered. That’s our choice but, for anyone starting out on such a battle, I would say, if you can, mediate, mediate, mediate. You may not get everything you want but never, ever feel guilty for compromising and for not taking our path if there’s a path that gives you and your family a resolution you can live with. You’ve only got the one life and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to spend years fighting mega wealthy and corrupt organisations.

  4. But if you are determined to win the fight be aware you really are involved in a David v Goliath battle and Goliath is a huge, mean and unprincipled giant!

    So on your darkest days, just remember, “the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.” Tell yourself that over and over everyday and you will win.

If these pointer help even one person, then it has been worth publishing them. I really hope they do!

©Nikki Turner 2015

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