There are plenty of companies who will offer to help you reclaim any fees you might have been wrongly charged on financial products. But you may wait a long time for a result and the costs can be surprising.
Reclaiming PPI, or payment protection insurance, has been big business for years. But now the firms which claim on our behalf are branching out - offering to reclaim all sorts of other charges from financial institutions. And there are concerns about how some of them are operating.
Haydn Trew from Cardiff
One consumer who's been left baffled by his experience of a claims management firm is Cardiff PE teacher, Haydn Trew.
Hadyn told X-Ray how he was telephoned at home by one company last year, “This company said do you want to win some money back. They were looking to look into the companies - mortgage companies, credit card companies to see overcharges, overpayments, charging for late payments or to see if I’d been wrongly sold any mortgages.”
On the phone the advisor was pretty persuasive, convincing Haydn this was a great way to reclaim money from organisations which had taken advantage of him in the past and, before he knew it, Haydn was handing over his credit card details. The company was able to withdraw almost £600 from Haydn's credit card to look into two claims.
With the claim ongoing, a few months later Haydn was contacted again by the company offering to look into more claims - but that would mean handing over more money. Haydn says, “I thought as I already paid £600 and didn’t want to risk losing that I thought if I gave them the £700 I might have a chance of getting a successful claim and getting something back.”
The total Haydn had paid was now almost £1,300.
The company Haydn had paid is called Client Connection Limited, based in Swansea. They were trading as Money Claiming Experts but changed their trading name to Lifestyle Claims.
It’s been over a year since Haydn first heard from the company and only one of his claims so far has been successful, earning him just over £100. But Client Connection Limited have asked for 30 per cent of this as their fee. The rest of his claims have been unsuccessful, except for one which is still outstanding - so Haydn is still waiting to hear if he's due any more money back. Haydn said, “I’m not very hopeful with that at the moment.”
Hyadn says he had faith in the company because, “they said they were with the Ministry of Justice.” Client Connection Limited say they only refer to themselves as being: “regulated by the Ministry of Justice in respect of regulated claims management activities.”
The first fees of almost £600 were charged to Haydn's credit card the same day as their initial phone call. The Ministry of Justice, which regulates Claims Management firms, has provided guidance which suggests companies aren’t allowed to do that. Client Connection Limited says: “The guidance note to which [X-Ray has] referred is not statutory and has no legal basis.”
But the Ministry of Justice is critical of this, saying the guidance clarifies what businesses need to do to protect consumers and: “If a business is found to be flouting these guidelines, the MoJ can take appropriate action which can include investigation and suspension of a company." The Ministry of Justice has told X-Ray that they are investigating consumer complaints made against Client Connection Ltd / Lifestyle Claims. They say they will carefully consider the issues raised about this business
Haydn’s left baffled by his experience, saying, “I don't understand how they operate and I wish I hadn't entered into it in the first place.”
The consumer organisation Which? has recently conducted research into claims management firms. Money editor James Daley has a stark warning. He says, “Dozens of firms out there don't declare fees, overstate their value, charge up front fees, get consumers to sign the contract before knowing what the service is. The MOJ needs to clamp down on this industry so those firms which aren't following the rules are shut down.”
Consumers who believe they have been wrongly charged by financial institutions can contact the Financial Ombusdman Service for free and impartial decisions.
There are template letters available widely on the internet for people who feel they have been left out of pocket and want to make a claim, and some banks are actively encouraging consumers to make claims themselves and not to use Claims Management Firms which take a fee from any money recovered.
Which? suggests people who do want to use a claims management form should choose one which offers a "no win no fee service" and should not use any company which charges fees up front.
Client Connection Limited say they have investigated five claims on Haydn's behalf. One has been successful so far with £110.93 recovered. Haydn has paid a 30 per cent plus VAT fee of £39.94 in relation to this claim. One claim is with the Financial Ombudsman Service and Client Connection Limited say it may take 6-9 months to be processed, and three of the claims have been unsuccessful.
Haydn has paid Client Connection Limited £1,344.89 in total and the company says a further “success fee” may be payable depending on the outcome of his outstanding claim. If Haydn is owed a refund from the company this will be paid within 30 days of completion of his claim, although they say he’s not due any refund from them at this stage.