The Jackson Reforms… a month on………….

Well its nearly a month since the wonderful Government brought in the amendments to the CPR which hit among other things the recoverability of successfees under no win no fee agreements.

Obviously, the initial thoughts were that consumers would face difficulties in obtaining access to justice and while this will undoubtedly be true for Claimants wishing to pursue a personal injury claim as they would now have to pay the successfee from their damages, for our clients it is not as bad as we first thought.

It is true that we are now more strict with the criteria of cases we take on, but the reality of it is that we are still taking cases on no win no fee, and while the client will now have to pay any success fee, we are not obliged to charge the Client a successfee at all if we dont want to and we are taking a flexible approach with clients and are happy to allow payment over a period of months where the case warrants it.

I must confess i did  think that the firm would cease taking on no win no fee cases, however, clearly i was wrong and the Jackson reforms, while more challenging are not a reason to stop taking cases on no win no fee.

Also, statutory demands are unaffected by these reforms, so we can still recover the successfee from the opponent, so cases involving bankruptcy are not affected at all.

I must say that Kerry Underwood of Underwoods solicitors was right when he said that the reforms are not as bad as some people thought they would be.

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.

Our order “appealled” to the Judge

An interesting case came up recently which went to reinforce my view that if you are not sure of the arguable points in your case, or how to present them correctly in a Defence, then you should seek legal advice.

The case in question, as so many others do, involved a matter where a clients account had been purchased by a third-party who were seeking to recover the balance outstanding on a credit card account.

The matter ended with the Client being sued, there appeared to be a number of grounds of challenge in this matter, however due to the clients lack of understanding many of the key points were missed out of the Defence, instead there were a number of irrelevant quotes from cases which didn’t assist.

The case did not really get off the ground, as the Claimant applied for summary judgment and unfortunately for the client, they succeeded and judgment was granted. Thus leaving the client with not only the full balance now being payable but also costs, and a CCJ on the credit record.

At this point the client contacted us and we took the case on a CFA basis. We also found a barrister on a CFA also. We considered the judgment and identified a number of weaknesses within the judgment. We prepared the grounds of appeal and filed the appellants notice (Form N161) . We identified a number of points which the Client had not considered or had not argued correctly.

We drafted up a consent order which allowed the appeal by the consent of the parties, of course the appeal court needs to be satisfied that there is a good reason for allowing the appeal without hearing the parties as the Courts do not like to interfere with a judgment unless there are good grounds to do so but as long as there are grounds and neither of the parties isnt a child or under the Court of Protection then it should be straight forward.

There was a fair bit of tooing and froing between the parties, and eventually the parties agreed to the appeal being allowed by consent relying on CPR 52 PD52A Paragraph 6.4. All of the costs were paid by the opponent.

The Judgment should never have been granted, but the client simply was unable to present a convincing argument to the Judge and as a result the client lost. The Client was on a tilted playing field from the start as the barrister the Claimant sent was well versed in Consumer Credit Law but the Client wasnt, it was a case of the Claimant barrister had the Judge eating out of his hand while the Client was simply given short shrift.

The case was put back on an even keel and an amended Defence was prepared raising all of the keys issues which gave the client a chance at trial.

The key point here however is if you do feel out of your depth, you are merely going to cause yourself more problems if you go it alone. It costs nothing to get some advice and see if there are any firms willing to assist you on no win no fee.

At the end of the day, success can never be guaranteed, but with the right help, you can give yourself the best fighting chance available.

Consumer Credit Litigation

I was emailed a link to a website belonging to a firm of solicitors whom i am acquainted with via a number of successful litigations.

Their website can be found here http://turnbullrutherford.com/services-consumer-credit.asp

I note that they suggest a litigation review is necessary and they are entirely correct. Many creditors and their lawyers are quick to issue claims, but slow to check they have the evidence necessary to discharge the burden placed upon them by the litigation.

I have taken a quote direct from the website, as it is very Apt indeed.

Some common themes arising in defences to claims for monies owed under consumer credit agreements are whether:

  • A creditor has complied with its duties under section 78 of the Act to provide a copy
    of the credit agreement;
  • A compliant default notice has been served on the debtor under section 87 of the
    Act enabling the entire sum to be repayable immediately and permitting termination
    of the agreement;
  • The credit agreement was executed in compliance with the Act and contained
    all the prescribed terms at the time of the debtor signing the agreement;
  • There was mis-selling of PPI policies or whether the debtor can establish a
    claim under the newly introduced unfair relationship provisions.

And here’s why its very apt!!!!!

HFO Capital limited v Denis Robinson- The Claimant represented by Turnbull Rutherford Solicitors failed before Deputy District Judge Bradly to satisfy the Court that section 78(1) Consumer Credit Act 1974 had been complied with
HFO Capital Limited v Michael Burney- The Claimant represented by Turnbull Rutherford Solicitors failed to satisfy the District Judge that the Default notice was compliant with s87(1) Consumer Credit Act 1974. The Court ruling is on BAILII and can be found here http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/Misc/2011/23.html

HFO Capital Limited v Roland Wegmuller- The Claimant represented by Turnbull Rutherford Solicitors failed to satisfy the Recorder Campbell at Birmingham County Court that the agreement contained the prescribed terms required by s61(1)(a) Consumer Credit Act 1974. I was the fee earner for this case too. The Judgment is here http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/Misc/2012/19.html

So, yes, the above cases show that without a proper and adequate litigation review, it will be very costly if it goes wrong for the creditors, and quite rightly, if you bring a claim rife with errors, you deserve to be punished in costs when the Defendant exercises his or her right to a Defence and wins.

Restons Solicitors article on HFO Capital Limited v Wegmuller.

I was trawling the net the other day and i was fortunate (although Restons may disagree here) to find the Restons website.

I must say a nice looking site, however, its a pity about the Wegmuller report, because its wide of the mark. The author clearly has not given sufficient attention to the Judgment of Recorder Campbell.

In the case of HFO Capital Limited v Wegmuller, Mr Recorder Campbell considered the allegation by Mr Wegmuller that the Barclaycard agreement (subsequently  acquired by HFO)  he signed in the mid-1990’s failed to contain the prescribed terms and therefore did not comply with Section 61 of the CCA.  After making reference to “Carey v HSBC Plc” – in particular those passages which dealt with what the Act required the customer to sign – the Recorder noted the court had not been provided either with a copy of the original agreement nor a reconstitution of it.

That is entirely wrong. Before the Court were the following,

1) A copy of the signed application form.

2) Terms and conditions which clearly were provided with the card, in fact they stated that they were accompanying the card!!

3) a reconstitution of the agreement

None of which assist where the underlying agreement is unenforceable, clearly you cannot reconstitute to make a bad agreement good. As they say, you cannot polish a turd, if its a bad agreement, no amount of reconstituting can put it right!!!!

The problems with the case were not as the author of the Restons article suggests, and in fact i made an application to the Court prior to the hearing for an order that the Claimant do provide a reconstitution of the original agreement. The Claimant provided the disclosure, and the reconstituted agreement was entirely supportive of Mr Wegmullers views.

Although Mr Wegmuller actually acknowledged difficulty in recollecting exactly what he signed, the Recorder decided that in the absence of any direct evidence from either Barclaycard or HFO, as to account set up procedures/documentation, Section 61 compliance could not be proved.  Therefore the debt recovery claim brought by HFO was dismissed.

Ok, now its helpful to look at the Wegmuller ruling here.

14. I pause there for a moment. It is worth noting that none of those three terms is actually visible on the copy application form document in the bundle that was signed by the defendant on 25th March 1996.

Clearly Recorder Campbell found the prescribed terms were not on the application Mr Wegmuller signed. That was obvious, contrary to the authors assertion the agreement was before the Court, otherwise how did the recorder make such findings??

Worse was to follow as Mr Wegmuller had instructed a firm of solicitors who are well known for representing customers who wish to challenge their liability under  regulated agreements on the grounds of non CCA compliance.  That firm (and similar) will take comfort from this ruling – not least the award of costs made in their favour.

That Firm, what an amusing comment, it seems to be that they cant even bring themselves to mention our name, still anyone who reads the Wegmuller ruling will know who we are. I would also point out that every one is entitled to be legally represented, if the banks dont like losing money there is a solution, GET IT RIGHT- GET YOUR PAPERS IN ORDER and maybe even invest in lawyers who know about consumer credit law. On the point of costs, well yes, isnt it the case that costs follow the event? if the lender had won he would have wanted his costs surely? or would they be kind and say its ok dont bother paying? for goodness sakes , the mind really boggles. So yes, we won the case, yes we got paid, yes the client didnt have to pay his unenforceable debt and yes we were on a CFA so got an uplift.

Although perhaps a reflection of the quality of evidence before the Court in that particular case, the message is clear – when proceedings are defended, debt purchasers need to ensure that a litigation risk assessment is carried out on every “enforceability” case.  The reality is that for the purposes of both litigation and regulatory compliance they are an “extension” of the original lender.  Implementation of effective arrangements will ensure recoveries  are maximised and defeat/dissuade speculative and time-consuming challenges/defences.

With respect, i find it grossly insulting if the author is suggesting that Mr Wegmullers Defence was speculative. It was anything but. There were identified breaches of s61,62,63,78,86,87 Consumer credit Act. As for HFO Capitals Default notices one merely need read HFO Capital v Michael Burney which is on BAILII and can be found here
We have challenged that certain creditor before, and have at least 20 victories under our belts with them so if our defences are speculative the judges must clearly be missing something. As far as it goes, the failings were no the fault of our clients, they were the fault of the creditors and their stupidity in rushing off to court without making sure they had a case that was winnable. I have a wealth of rulings in the County Court and High Court also that supports the arguments i have used in cases such as Wegmuller, none of which can be called speculative.

On a closing point, i must remind myself of the words of the Vice Chancellor in the case of Wilson v First County Trust Ltd – [2001] 3 All ER 229 where Sir Andrew Morritt VC said

In effect, the creditor–by failing to ensure that he obtained a document signed by the debtor which contained all the prescribed terms–must (in the light of the provisions in ss 65(1) and 127(3) of the 1974 Act) be taken to have made a voluntary disposition, or gift,of the loan moneys to the debtor. The creditor had chosen to part with the moneys in circumstances in which it was never entitled to have them repaid;

It seems pretty clear that if a lender fails to jump through the hoops set down by the legislation then he deserves all the hassle he gets. Lets also not forget that many lenders DID Get it wrong over the last 20 years, and now their errors are coming to light to their detriment sadly.

my dear old dad vs Lloyds TSB

I never thought i would see the day when i had to give advice to my dad about the law relating to financial institutions let alone actually have to represent him but that day came recently.

I was talking to my dad about his loans that he had with Lloyds TSB and he happend to mention a letter that he had recieved from Lloyds which he came accross by accident while looking through his files.

What had happened was that dad was made redundant around February this year, fortunately his loan ended around the beginning of February. This much i was aware of.

However, what i was unaware of, was that Dad had gone into the branch of Lloyds TSB when he took out his loan, and the advisor told him that she strongly recommended that he took out the loan, there were witnesses fortunatley to this. My dad replied that he would only take out the PPI upon condition that it provided him with redundancy cover past his 65th birthday, with it being recorded that if it did not then he did not want it end of story. My dad explained that he was planning on working on until he was 68 or 69 so that his mortgage could be paid, and therefore any PPI needs to provide redundancy cover until he finished work.

He was assured that it did.

Anyway, dad found a letter from lloyds telling him that since he was 65 his ppi was no longer covering him.

To say i was very sad and had a sense of humour failure would be an understatement. So, off we went to Lloyds TSB customer services, dad gave me full authority to deal with the account too, so it was open season on Lloyds.

Not only had they missold dad PPI on this case, but on all his other loans going back years.
So, i got hold of Lloyds, set out clearly that this was an advised sale, despite them trying to say it was, the fact they said ” we strongly recommend you take this”  is clearly an advised sale. They also argued limitation, but sadly they lost that one too, as i argued that the misrepresentation made the relationship unfair and therefore, Patel v Patel [2009] EWHC 3264 (QB) (10 December 2009) clearly says that if the relationship is unfair within s140(a) CCA 1974, then the limitation period is 6 years from the end of the relationship. Sorry Lloyd’s TSB you lost again.
So, after an investigation, Lloyds decided to do the right thing and refunded my Dad all of his PPI with interest.

Very happy with that result.

Jones v Link Financail Limited

I often keep my finger on the pulse of High Court cases involving Link Financial Limited , especially after our victory against them in Harrison.

I came across a case today called Jones v Link. It was a very pleasing case indeed, as it torpedoes these debt purchasers who try to argue that they merely purchased the debt as an assignee and therefore the Consumer Credit Act does not apply to them.

Cabot were prime at doing this, as were Arrow Global, however the High Court has now ruled that the Assignee is the Creditor for litigation, therefore this “were not the creditor” argument is no more (unless there is a further Appeal of course in Jones)

So debt purchase companies, you do have to comply with the Consumer Credit Act, if a debtor makes a statutory request for a copy of the agreement under s78 CCA for example, and the agreement is live and not been terminated, then you cannot say you arent the creditor. And believe me, if you do on a case im involved with, ill slap a copy on Jones on the table quicker than you can say im not the creditor.

The case can be found here http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2012/2402.html

Hire purchase agreements and s90-92 Consumer Credit Act 1974

Over the past few months i have dealt with a number of hire purchase cases whereby the creditor has taken possession of protected goods upon a debtor breaching the terms of the agreement regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

Protected goods are goods that more than one third of the repayments due under the agreement have been paid. Where the debtor has paid more than the one third of the total repayments before repossession the creditor would need an order of the Court to be entitled to repossess the goods. It is worth visiting the relevant sections of the Consumer Credit Act

90 Retaking of protected hire-purchase etc. goods.

(1)At any time when—
(a)the debtor is in breach of a regulated hire-purchase or a regulated conditional sale agreement relating to goods, and
(b)the debtor has paid to the creditor one-third or more of the total price of the goods, and
(c)the property in the goods remains in the creditor,
the creditor is not entitled to recover possession of the goods from the debtor except on an order of the court.
(2)Where under a hire-purchase or conditional sale agreement the creditor is required to carry out any installation and the agreement specifies, as part of the total price, the amount to be paid in respect of the installation (the “installation charge ”) the reference in subsection (1)(b) to one-third of the total price shall be construed as a reference to the aggregate of the installation charge and one-third of the remainder of the total price.
(3)In a case where—
(a)subsection (1)(a) is satisfied, but not subsection (1)(b), and
(b)subsection (1)(b) was satisfied on a previous occasion in relation to an earlier agreement, being a regulated hire-purchase or regulated conditional sale agreement, between the same parties, and relating to any of the goods comprised in the later agreement (whether or not other goods were also included),
subsection (1) shall apply to the later agreement with the omission of paragraph (b).
(4)If the later agreement is a modifying agreement, subsection (3) shall apply with the substitution, for the second reference to the later agreement, of a reference to the modifying agreement.
(5)Subsection (1) shall not apply, or shall cease to apply, to an agreement if the debtor has terminated, or terminates, the agreement.
(6)Where subsection (1) applies to an agreement at the death of the debtor, it shall continue to apply (in relation to the possessor of the goods) until the grant of probate or administration, or (in Scotland) confirmation (on which the personal representative would fall to be treated as the debtor).
(7)Goods falling within this section are in this Act referred to as “protected goods ”.

91 Consequences of breach of s. 90.

If goods are recovered by the creditor in contravention of section 90—

(a)the regulated agreement, if not previous terminated, shall terminate, and
(b)the debtor shall be released from all liability under the agreement, and shall be entitled to recover from the creditor all sums paid by the debtor under the agreement.

92 Recovery of possession of goods or land.

(1)Except under an order of the court, the creditor or owner shall not be entitled to enter any premises to take possession of goods subject to a regulated hire-purchase agreement, regulated conditional sale agreement or regulated consumer hire agreement.
(2)At any time when the debtor is in breach of a regulated conditional sale agreement relating to land, the creditor is entitled to recover possession of the land from the debtor, or any person claiming under him, on an order of the court only.
(3)An entry in contravention of subsection (1) or (2) is actionable as a breach of statutory duty.

The above is pretty clear yes? so why do creditors get themselves caught out? well the difficulty Mr Creditor seems to have is, in the cases ive dealt with, they have tried to argue that the debtor returned the keys, thus consented to the repossession and therefore the one third rule et al is irrelevant.

However, while a debtor can indeed consent to enforcement under the act, when it comes to repossession of protected goods the consent must be “informed consent” and in the cases which i have dealt with, the consent was clearly not informed consent.

The Court of Appeal case of Chartered Trust v Pritcher makes it very clear that recovery of protected goods must be by informed consent. So what does this mean? In Pritcher, the debtor had not been made fully aware of his statutory rights before the vehicle was repossessed. Such as the right to keep the goods after more than one third of the repayments had been made and seek a time order from the Court. This right was not explained to Mr Pritcher and therefore his consent was not informed consent. While the Pritcher case was relevant to the Hire Purchase Act, the editors of Goode agreed that the case would apply to the provisions of s90  Consumer Credit Act .

Given the amount of defective Default notices that we see, there is no doubt that some lenders will face a real difficulty if they repo protected goods after one third of the repayments have been made without securing informed consent of the debtor. It is my view that a materially bad default which does not provide the debtor with statutory information required by the Consumer Credit Act could invalidate any consent that the debtor may have given, if he did so not fully aware of his rights.
I have already dealt with such a case where the client was entitled to a refund of all monies paid under the agreement because informed consent was not achieved.

MBNA told show must go on……..but gave up anyway

A follow up to my post last month on here.

MBNA were defeated on an application for summary judgment by my client who was represented by arguably one of the leading barristers in consumer law – Paul Brant of Oriel Chambers.

Well after the hearing, MBNA filed notice of discontinuance. The sceptic in me says they didnt want the issue about interest to come out at trial as it would be horrendously damaging but of course that is just my thoughts.

Anyway, im going to point out the interest issue here, so such is life 🙂

The client had a Bank of Scotland Credit card which was opened in 1994.

The terms of the original card provided that interest was simple interest. The terms did not provide an unfettered right to introduce new terms when the creditor felt like it.

The terms only provided a very narrow right to vary interest rates, but not the manner which interest was charged.

However, MBNA took over the card in around 2006, like they did with millions of others from the Bank of Scotland. So, MBNA without further thought it seems slapped new terms on the table and bound our client to them………or atleast they thought they did.

We disagreed. We pleaded that the Claimant was not entitled to compound interest and MBNA in their reply admitted that we were right bout the original terms of agreement, but it seemed MBNA were arguing they could vary the terms relying on their right to vary the RATE of interest.

We referred to Goode the leading authority on CCA work.

Paragraph 35.1 Goode Consumer Credit: Law and Practice refers when it is stated “Many variation clauses are drawn in very general terms, but the creditor should not assume that that these confer on him an unlimited power to alter the contract terms. A variation clause will, like the rest of the contract, be construed contra preferendem, and in the absence of clear language the court is unlikely to treat the clause as empowering the creditor to modify the contract in some fundamental manner outside the reasonable contemplation of the parties.’

Our view is that it is entirely correct, that the Creditor could not twist a clause to suit itself. Furthermore, the issue on compound interest has been to the Court of Appeal already in the matter of Armstrong v American Express. And in that case Amex had to reduce the balance from a compounded rate to a simple rate as their terms did not allow for compounded interest.

In our clients case, MBNA had been charging compounded interest over 6 years, so arguably there was a huge refund due our client which would of extinguished the debt in any event, that is certainly my own opinion.

Anyway, we will never know who was right and who was wrong…………