A point of interest that arose today

I often post here about the misinformation floating around online, and the errors that people make in assuming things concerning Consumer Credit Law, however a series of events today made me decide to post this article.

I was presented with an argument about enforceability which was badly wrong. Well in fact a number of points were incorrect.

Error 1) If a bank or creditor cannot provide the original credit agreement then they cannot enforce the agreement in Court. Also if they don’t have the original then they cannot reconstitute the agreement.

This is incorrect. Even going back to Wilson v First County Trust (2003) UKHL 40, the Lords said that there must have been an agreement, signed by the debtor, however the Lords did not say that if the bank doesn’t have this agreement then they cannot enforce. There have been a series of judicial rulings which address this point.

HHJ Langan in Lloyds TSB vs Mitchell that the creditor did not have to produce the original signed agreement, he pointed out cases such as the Iron Mountain fire where thousands of credit agreements were burnt and pointed out that if the creditor lost his agreement because of the fire, then it would produce an absurd result that would have left the creditors unable to enforce compliant and enforceable credit agreements. That was never the intention of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

In Carey v HSBC Bank Plc HHJ Waksman QC made it clear that the creditor does not need the original agreement to produce a true copy, he can rely on records held in computers and other sources to produce a true copy of the agreement, the only caveat is that the copy must be honest and accurate.

The Courts have also set down some guidance on the issue of unenforceabilty and who shares the burden of raising such arguments relating to unenforceabilty. In HFO Services vs Kirit Patel HHJ Platts made it clear where a debtor wishes to raise an allegation of unenforceability, he cannot just say “its unenforceable guvnor” he needs to say why. For example, its unenforceable because the amount of credit is misstated and therefore a prescribed term is missing and therefore the agreement does not comply with s61(1)(a) Consumer Credit Act 1974.

So what if you don’t have the original agreement? well the burden does rest on the debtor to make a positive assertion about the original agreement, as the law stands , unless the debtor is able to make a positive assertion that the agreement was unenforceable because….. or that there never was a signed agreement…………………….(Please note: This only applies for agreements signed before 6th April 2007) then it is going to be very difficult to challenge the enforceability of the credit agreement.

I would also point out that no where in the 1974 Act does it state the “Original actual signed piece of paper” must be brought to the Court. It would no doubt be accepted by the Court if a member of staff working for the bank in their archiving department gave evidence that there was a credit agreement recorded on the banks archives, and that the type of credit agreement in use at that time was “X” and the computer records show that “X” % rate of interest would have applied and the credit limit was “£XXXXX”. The Court is likely to accept such evidence unless there is a positive assertion coming from the debtor as to what he did or did not sign. Now i would also point out that making a positive assertion that you didn’t sign an agreement when you know you did, is not only likely to get found out and make you look foolish, if you make such an assertion in a Defence and sign such with a statement of truth knowing it isn’t true, then you may well end up facing contempt of court too.

That said, there are often ways of proving the agreement the bank says is a “true copy” is in fact not a true copy. I have developed this skill over the years, and have been successful on a number of occasions in proving that the “true copy” provided by lenders isnt.

Error 2) Improper execution is not the same as unenforceable when dealing with s61 and 127(3) Consumer Credit Act.

This error was argued before me today. If an agreement is unenforceable, then it is unenforceable because the agreement fails to comply with s61 Consumer Credit Act, s61 clearly states an agreement is “improperly executed unless……..” if we then turn to s65(1) Consumer Credit Act 1974 we find that an “improperly executed agreement is only enforceable by order of the Court”

If we look at s127(3) Consumer Credit Act 1974 which has now been repealed, that states

127(3) The court shall not make an enforcement order under section 65(1) if section 61(1)(a)(signing of agreements) was not complied with unless a document (whether or not in the prescribed form and complying with regulations under section 60(1)) itself containing all the prescribed terms of the agreement was signed by the debtor or hirer (whether or not in the prescribed manner).

So, we say unenforceable but to use the term improperly executed would lead to the same conclusion.

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And s77-79 Consumer Credit Act 1974 is still causing the credit industry problems.

In May 2011 i took part in an interview with Ian Pollock from the BBC. Ian also interviewed Raymond Cox QC who is a leading expert on banking and finance law.

In that interview, i predicted that the banks were facing a big problem, Ray Cox QC also agreed with this view. Interestingly the Credit Services association Chief Exec Peter Wallwork was quoted as saying “Debt purchasers are not waking up and suddenly finding they have a problem on their hands,” and he apparently denied that lenders had a problem.

If that was correct, then it would be fair to say that i would be out of work by now, as plainly if the banks and creditors were not facing a problem then they wouldn’t lose in court, my firm wouldn’t win, and we would all be out of business. I’m sure that is the lenders wish, but sadly it isn’t whats happening.

On 4th March 2013 a Court heard a case involving a loan agreement. The agreement wasn’t that old, and the bank shouldn’t have had any problem producing a copy of the agreement, if of course their records were good and reliable. However, as was proven in Court before a Circuit Judge, their records fell down badly.

The Defendant made a request under s77(1) Consumer Credit Act 1974 for a copy of the loan agreement, it was a request made so that the Defendant could ascertain the terms of the agreement and to satisfy herself that the bank was entitled to take certain actions and to levy certain charges on to the account.

The first copy produced, was grotesquely illegible, it was ridiculous given that this was a bank who plainly knew what the law said about legibility, to make the point even the banks barrister said in court that no one could say this document was legible!!. It never ceases to amaze me that a bank would send out something which plainly could not be read, i mean what is the sense in doing that? what does it achieve? how does it assist anyone?

The bank then took legal action against the customer, despite failing to provide the documents which it was obliged to provide, and i pause for a moment to also point out that the bank also had a duty to provide documents under the Civil Procedure Rules Pre Action Protocols, so there was a double failing on the banks part.

I actually lost count of how many attempts the bank took at complying with what seemingly is a straight forward piece of legislation. If one reads the BBC interview you would think that the banks had no issues with complying with these s77 – 79 requests.

Everytime the bank sent a copy of the agreement, there were faults, faults so obvious Stevie Wonder on a galloping horse could have seen them clearly. I highlighted that the documents did not comply, yet this was seemingly ignored, in fact on one occasion the bank said, in the hope that a line can be drawn under this particular issue…… and they enclosed the same documents, with the same glaringly obvious errors.

When the case came to Court, the banks barrister ran a rather novel argument that the errors were errors which would have featured in the original signed agreement. The client recalled the document she signed and was adamant that what was produced wasnt it. Also, it seems to have escaped the bank that in running its argument that the errors were present in the original meant that the lawyers who drafted the contract must have been incompetent to write in these errors, further they were incompetent in not proof reading. Then, the printers also were incompetent in printing such a document with such glaring errors, and not proof reading, then, the bank and its agents must also have been incompetent as they sent out a credit agreement riddled with errors. And as the Judge who was alive to all the issues pointed out, no one at the bank had picked up on these errors for nearly 7 years until a customer of the bank pointed them out. Plausible? i think not, and the Judge agreed with that point of view, and dismissed the Claim.

But this isn’t the only case which i have dealt with that has fallen over on s77-79 Consumer Credit Act 1974. I dealt with a claim two weeks prior, where a large debt purchaser could not provide a true copy of the Defendants credit agreement. The judge on that case also dismissed the Claim and found for my client on all points taken.

Then there is the cases which don’t get to trial, many get abandoned when the creditors find they cannot comply with s77 – 79.

I remain of the view that the lenders have a headache facing them, certainly from the documents i see being put forward as “true copies” i am often able to find fault, whether it is a phone number that was not in use, or an address that wasn’t in use, or a rate of interest that wasn’t used until a year later or late payment charges which didn’t apply at the point the agreement was executed,the devil is in the detail.

I wonder if the credit services association would stand by their view some two years on or whether they will finally accept that lenders do have a problem.