Saturday, 22 February 2014

Washed Up

Irish playwright, journalist and co-founder of the London school of Economics, George Bernard Shaw once said, “Cruelty must be whitewashed by moral excuse and pretence of reluctance” and unsurprisingly my experience in the ineffectual hands of the Financial Ombudsman Service has amounted to nothing less.

Established in 2001 by parliament, the Financial Ombudsman Service is supposed to be an impartial and independent body which settles disputes between consumers and UK based businesses providing financial services. We are encouraged to believe the law requires the ombudsman to take into account relevant law and regulations, regulator's rules, guidance and standards, codes of practice, and (where appropriate) what he/she considers to have been good industry practice at the relevant time, in order to make decisions which are fair and reasonable. From a current case load of over 500,000 each year (a level which has swelled its ranks by four fold since the onset of the banking crisis in 2008), it is estimated the FOS rule in favour of the complainant in approximately 49% of cases.

As a result of my appeal to have my case against HBOS reviewed by an ombudsman, my FOS Final Response has not only dismissed the majority of my case as immaterial and irrelevant but my ombudsman states she has “difficulty in accepting” my claim that either HBOS or their mortgage broker acted fraudulently in order to secure my mortgage business.

I am told she, like my adjudicator, is;

“Not required to respond at ... length or to respond to each and every point raised” but instead has “considered the case in the light of the lending climate at the time [having] noted that the bank has said it will not be pursuing Mr and Mrs [Life after Debt] for the shortfall debt" (a statement which is completely untrue).

Despite the basis of my complaint being that my mortgage application was submitted on line by a broker I never met using an application form I never saw and information I did not supply, I am further advised;
  • “ The bank could not have been expected to know the information about the purchase price and date was untrue”
  • “The [brokers signature] on the application form [and the photo copied passports] confirms there was a face to face meeting”
  •  “The factual inaccuracies in the application...were signed as being true”
What is more she has also informed me, with complete disregard for my protestations that her findings are based on false assumptions and not the evidence, the FOS will be publishing her travesty of a ruling on my case on their website.

Former Chief Ombudsman Walter Merricks once said, “The FOS is an unusual creature. One I would suggest parliament would not have dared to create had the ground work not been laid by a series of voluntary initiatives. It is a one sided scheme offering an unlevel playing field broadly supported by those playing up hill...We do not have to pretend to find what the law is. We unashamedly make new law”.

After six whole years engaged in battle with HBOS which now includes a shambolic, whitewashed FOS investigation into my case of complaint, I have now been thrown straight back into the lawless clutches of one the most infamous banks and their debt collectors.

I find this not only to be immensely cruel, but also wholly immoral and completely unjust.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Guarded Lies

Polish born Karl Jozef Wojtyla, influential twentieth century leader and second longest serving pope in history, John Paul II once said, “An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie, for an excuse is a lie guarded” and now that I am in receipt of a second Financial Ombudsman Service adjudicator assessment which once again excuses action in the face of HBOS wrong doing, I too believe excuses are indeed terrible and in the case of the FOS, tantamount to guarded lies.

Already in my sixth year of battle, I have spent the last twelve months acquiring documentary evidence to support my suspicion that the mortgage I was sold by the Bank of Scotland in June 2006 was granted as a result of false information supplied by a broker whom HBOS paid £4,500 in fees to introduce. I believe our income figures and our property valuation were massaged by both HBOS and the broker to ensure our financial position matched their lending criteria and because the application was submitted on line by the broker, my husband and I were oblivious to the methods which had been employed to secure us a re-mortgage.

Obtaining the full un-redacted files of all the documentary evidence I require from HBOS has proved an arduous task which is still not complete and despite making the FOS aware of HBOS’ obstructive practices in this regard, I have repeatedly been put under enormous pressure to agree to my case proceeding without the incriminating evidence I have been seeking. As a result of an ultimatum I was given by the FOS to produce my findings by 31 January or else forfeit my case, I was forced to submit my lengthy but nevertheless incomplete eight page letter of “further evidence” sighting several examples of underwriting practices which I believe can only be interpreted as fraudulent. In it I listed the numerous ways in which my adjudicator has both misunderstood my case and, in a previous assessment, elected to use false figures supplied by HBOS to draw his conclusions rather than the substantiated information I supplied.

I  also drew his attention to the following;
  • My mortgage application was submitted, on line, without my husband or I being privy to the information used
  • Once the mortgage was approved, my husband and I were asked to sign two separate declaration pages on two separate occasions on forms that were otherwise blank
  • At no time did we meet the broker or anyone connected to the sale of the mortgage as all transactions were carried out via email, post or telephone
  • The brokerage representative who signed and verified photocopies of our passport for identity and money laundering purposes is unknown to us.
  • The broker asked us to send him photocopies of our passports but at no time did he request that he see the originals.
Having received a copy of the original application form (albeit missing the declaration pages) in January 2013 as a result of a miss selling complaint I made to HBOS, I  learned the following;
  • The earned income figures submitted by the broker were grossly over-estimated and unsurprisingly amount to precisely what was required to comply with HBOS’s two and a half time income multiple underwriting requirement
  • Although my husband was a property developer at the time of application and has never been a sportsman professional or otherwise, HBOS show his occupation to be that of a professional sports person.
  • The income details submitted were not verified with our accountant despite us being told it was an underwriting condition at outset and HBOS themselves tell me there is no fact find to support the sale of my mortgage, no affordability checks on file and no obligatory FSA compliance check list.
In addition I strongly suspect,
  • HBOS’s in house valuer rubber stamped an overly high valuation of our property because they were told we purchased the property in 2004 for £890,000 despite HBOS’s own in house solicitors’ file for its conveyance clearly stating we purchased our house in 2000 for £250,000
  • And, for reasons HBOS are unprepared to share, it appears HBOS removed our broker from their panel during the underwriting process of our mortgage and as a result of this it is highly likely that the execution of our mortgage deed constituted an unauthorized sale. If this proves to be the case, the contract HBOS believe they have with us is void.
Satisfied this evidence of HBOS wrong doing would give the FOS nowhere to hide, I hoped my efforts would finally secure me the long overdue and thorough investigation my case deserves.

This is my FOS adjuducator’s response;

Dear [Life after Debt],

“Thank you for your email and attachment of 28 January 2014. As confirmed in my email of the same date I am responding to your attached letter.
Having reviewed its contents I’m afraid I have very little to add to my position on your complaint, as outlined in my opinion letter of 13 November 2013. While I take into account all of the comments you have made, our service’s role is to concentrate on what we believe are the main and relevant issues in your case. As an impartial organisation we do not take instruction from either party as it is for us to decide what evidence we consider is necessary and relevant to our investigation.”

Furthermore my adjudicator informs me,
  • My broker could not be deemed to have been over incentivised to sell me an unsuitable mortgage as I signed in agreement to him receiving his fee
  • It is not reasonable for me to claim over valuation now when I had no objection to the valuation the surveyor gave at the time and,
  • Because the original application form shows a level of income which is sufficient to support the mortgage applied for, he "considers be fair and in line with good industry practice..."
Needless to say I have, by way of an appeal, asked for my case to be referred to an Ombudsman for a ruling. I can only hope he/she has a more comprehensive understanding of mortgage complaints than my current adjudicator.

Economics graduate, former radio, film and television actor and 40th US president Ronald Reagan once said,” Protecting the rights of even the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for existing” and if this is truly the case then what, I wonder, is our government’s excuse for the existence of a toothless and grossly incompetent Financial Ombudsman Service who actively dismiss the legitimate complaints of the individual while condoning the guarded lies and excuses of a corrupt banking industry?