Sunday, 17 February 2013

Unjust Desserts

American clergyman, activist and leader in the African civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Junior once said, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” However, waiting for history to take a favourable course in the wake of the unquenchable avarice of our unprosecuted banksters has frequently proved beyond the capacity of some to face alone. For us, the determined spirit of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau has been invaluable.

First formulated in 1924 as result a of the Betterton Report on Public Assistance and launched fifteen years later on the day after the break out of the Second World War, this government funded service quickly found debt advice was a key issue for those who sought the expertise of its trained volunteers. After seventy successful years offering free consultations to those in need, their initial two hundred offices had expanded to three and a half thousand UK locations and its 21,500 volunteer staff had assisted some of the UK’s most vulnerable negotiate homelessness, asylum, state benefits, employment law, tenancy rights as well as two major recessions and the onset of the banking crisis.

The CAB now prides itself on being able to assist more than 14.2 million individuals a year. They are supported over the phone and the internet as well as provided with face to face advice from the bureau or visits to their homes. In 2003 following a review of its practices by the Office for Public Management, it was concluded, “the CAB service provides excellent value in return for the public funding it receives. It makes a significant contribution to individuals and communities, as well as to the process of policy-making and service delivery. Its holistic approach, national coverage and independence are to be cherished.”

Ten years have passed since this commendable observation was made and the CAB is currently busier than ever assisting those who have fallen foul of an economic crisis caused by criminality within the banking sector. With only the top 10% of wage earners in the UK continuing to prosper, it goes without saying many of the victims of debt and banking fraud would struggle to find refuge from their assailants without the CAB’s help. Yet despite increasing demand, the CAB has recntly been forced to turn hundreds of thousands of people away because their funding has been axed by 45%.  As a result of these governmental and local authority cut backs they have no alternative but to close offices which are still playing a vital role in the community. Sadly the CAB office which rescued my own sanity is to be one of them.

In contrast to the invaluable contribution being made by the CAB, the delusional and unrepentant bankers armed themselves with weapons of financial mass destruction, used the window of opportunity created by financial deregulation to approach their business activities without moral hindrance plundered the reserves of their banks, their customers and the economy.  Furthermore, by obtaining tax payer funded bailouts to preserve their jobs and their “modest” remunerations, they have cunningly redirected funding formerly earmarked for the auspicious community serving CA B and deftly removed the only means by which many of their victims have been able to fight back.

Roman economist, lawyer and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero once said,” There is no sanctuary so holy that money cannot profane it, no fortress so strong that money cannot take it by storm” and recent history clearly illustrates that a small group of inauspicious bankers have used money to both profane and to storm and it is the Citizen's Advice Bureau and it's service users who are now being forced to pay the price. 

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Truth and Punishment

Mahatma Gandhi, preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India once said, "Many people, especially ignorant people, punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you are right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth" and after receiving not one, but two heartless letters of HBOS hogwash this week it is clear that ignorance and a complete disregard for the truth is not just the prerogative of Gandhi’s British-ruled India.

It is now four and a half years since the sale fell though on our home and I was prompted to discuss with Halifax Bank of Scotland how best to avoid repossession. Deaf to my proposals to create a tenancy to cover mortgage payments, I embarked upon another fruitless year of communication with HBOS after they forced its sale. During this highly stressful period I enlisted the help of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau’s but, despite their best efforts, no amount of explanation could satisfy this infamous bank that we were in extreme financial difficulties or persuade them to arrest their pursuit of us. It is was only after I consulted a government funded debt management organisation in desperation that I discovered the mortgage on my home may well have been miss sold in the first place.

It has taken me a further three years, via the Financial Ombudsman Service, to persuade HBOS to investigate my complaint only to find their original offer of mortgage was based on both a fictitious purchase price and a fictitious date of purchase at the application stage. I was sure making HBOS aware of this discovery would illustrate, without question, that not only did my compliant have substance but both HBOS’s surveyor and the broker to whom they paid more than £4,000 for placing the mortgage with them, had over-valued my home at outset. Convinced I had finally secured HBOS’s attention, I was relieved to have taken my first, albeit small, step forward after so many unsuccessful years of trying to communicate. Here follows their reply and sadly nothing could have been further from the truth.

In HBOS’s first letter they state,

“The information that was provided in this [mortgage application form] was what was entered into our systems. We took this as being accurate in good faith, and based upon the valuation that took place during the application process, there was never any reason to think this was wrong...Having viewed your comments and our response, my previous letter...has provided you with our final conclusions...As you have reached the end of our internal complaints procedure, any further correspondence received will be placed on file as we do not feel that further communication with you will help resolve your complaint.”

In HBOS’s second letter (which arrived by the very same post) I am told “this matter” has now been put in the hands of their debt collectors.

Because of the scandalous actions of banks such as HBOS, the taxpayer has been saddled with,
Yet I who have lost my home, my livelihood and my financial future at their hands can not only expect to be pursued by them for a £217,000 shortfall for the foreseeable future, while they, in the face of evidence which clearly illustrates there has been serious wrong doing, choose to remain ignorant of the truth and punish me for having the audacity to speak out.

Harvey Fierstein, American actor, playwright, author and champion for gay civil rights once said, “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim and accept no one’s definition of your life,” and because of the way in which HBOS have continued to treat me, it is my plan to turn this day along with each and every other one into an opportunity to follow, without deviation, every single word of Mr Fierstein’s advice.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Costs of Living

Joseph Franklin Rutherford, US trial lawyer, prosecutor and key developer of the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrines, once said, “ False riches consisting of money, houses and lands, acquired by selfish means at cost to others and thereafter used selfishly, are almost always used for the oppression of other persons” and allowing those who created a culture of banking fraud (a crime the industry and its regulators would prefer to call miss selling and manipulation) escape accountability, retain the proceeds of their ill gotten gains and position themselves beyond the long arm of the law, clearly illustrates how little has changed since Rutherford first made his observation.

In 2009 the National Audit office stated 850 billion pounds had been spent on saving the UK’s banks from the consequences of their fraudulent actions. This equates to something in the region of £3,500 to £27,500 per capita, depending on whether losses in share values are included in the calculation, and the obligation to fund this sum has been laid firmly on the shoulders of each and every individual in the UK. Furthermore, in Ireland current estimates indicate the cost of the economic crisis will quadruple that which the UK has so far endured. However, four full years since the first distasteful load of banksters dirty washing was aired in public, the tawdry truth has had little effect on those who masterminded this calculated redistribution of wealth.  Their houses and their lands along with their money remain intact and the fines levied by regulators (and perceived by the majority as punishment) have been, for the most part, funded from company coffers which were previously filled from the pockets of the long suffering British taxpayer.

Crime has clearly paid in the banking sector but for their victims the story is a very different one. Increased unemployment and reduced benefits have left many people struggling to make ends meet and 1.4 million families in the UK are currently facing homelessness because crisis driven austerity measures and job shortages have left them without sufficient income to meet rent and mortgage payments. Despite the Bank of England’s governor Mervyn King saying something has gone “very wrong” with Britain’s banks and “it’s time to do something about [it]”, little has changed. Speaking as one who has suffered insurmountable loses as a result of the banking crisis, I believe reform has not been forthcoming because those causing the problems have not been required to pick up the bill.

Natalie Ceeney, the Chief Financial Ombudsman recently told a Parliamentary Inquiry investigating bank miss-selling, “Evidence given by the banks was "factually untrue [and] implausible"  and further states "I have never trusted any CEO who says ‘I didn’t know'”. However, Parliamentary inquiries, independent investigations and harsh words have still not held the culprits to account and leniency of this nature allows infamous organisations like HBOS to remain untroubled by regulatory requirements and positively blasé about the complaints process.

As I have found to my detriment, making a financial service complaint is fraught with pitfalls and if my own case is anything to go by, it is not a journey to be undertaken by the fainthearted. I have spent years negotiating its tricky intricacies and despite my best efforts, I am still to be found waiting, under the less than watchful eye of the Financial Ombudsman Service, for a further two fruitless weeks for the Halifax Bank of Scotland to provide me with the thorough and timely investigation they personally promised me in November 2012.

In the meantime I have requested they supply me with the following,

  • A copy of my original mortgage application form
  • A copy of the Bank of Scotland’s underwriting compliance documents
  • Acknowledgement from the Halifax Bank of Scotland ( by return) of my 24 Jan response to their letter dated 17 Jan 2013
  • A revised response from the Halifax Bank of Scotland (within 14 days) concerning my over valuation complaint using actual figures rather than fictitious ones.
Needless to say I have heard nothing.

Joseph Franklin Rutherford also said, “If you are kept in ignorance of the true way and permit yourself to rely upon and be guided by the opinion of imperfect man, you can never gain the riches that bring you peace and lasting happiness”.  Likewise if both I and the general public continue to be kept in ignorance by the "factually untrue" and "implausible inaccuracies" of the banksters, I can see that not only will my imperfect Halifax Bank of Scotland customer services man be unable to furnish me with my rightful fair share of peace and lasting happiness, but the riches which were supplied to the banks by the British tax payer will remain in the pockets of the unscrupulous indefinitely.