Have you had a catalogue, credit card or store card where your credit limit was too high? So high that the monthly repayments were hard to manage and you got into more debt?
Many people were originally given an OK limit, but the lender kept increasing them.
You may have a good complaint that the lender was irresponsible in allowing you to borrow so much that the debt was unaffordable.
This article explains how to complain and ask for a refund of the interest you paid
What is “affordability”?
The following is my summary of the regulator’s rules:
- a lender must check if credit is affordable when you apply for it. A mortgage lender will ask for bank statements, but a catalogue offering a £200 credit limit doesn’t have to go into so much detail;
- a lender should also make new checks when deciding to increase a credit limit;
- credit isn’t affordable if paying it leaves you short of money for your bills,everyday expenses, and your other debts;
- if you have to borrow more most months, this would not be affordable. This could be borrowing on the same account – making a credit card repayment but then using the credit card to pay for food so the balance never drops is “borrowing more”;
- you have to be able to repay the balance within a reasonable period of time. Paying the minimum amount is OK for a short while, but not for a prolonged period.
How to complain
Good reasons to complain
If the lender could see any of these on your credit record, they should probably have declined your original application:
- recent credit record problems: defaults, missed payments, or arrangements to pay, mortgage arrears, payday loans;
- you already had a different credit card with the same lender and they could see from that account that you were only making minimum payments and were using it for essentials like food and petrol;
- a level of borrowing that looks too high in relation to your income.
Your credit limit should not later have been increased unless you could afford it. In addition to the points above, the following should have also warned the lender you were in difficulty already:
- making minimum payments for a long while;
- using a lot of your limit for a long period;
- a lot of gambling showing on the account statement;
- recent missed payments or an arrangement to pay on this account;
- your overall level of debt on your credit record has gone up a lot.
If you were given two credit cards or two catalogue accounts by the same lender, often the second one should never have been given.
You don’t need all the details to complain
When your lender increased your credit limit, you don’t need the exact date. If all you can say is “you increased my credit limit several times” that is fine. You don’t need to ask for copies of all your statements – you would get a ton of paper!
But getting your credit record can help. You can’t go back and see exactly what your credit score was in say 2018, but take a copy of your current credit record as soon as you complain (get your free TransUnion statutory credit report). That will show what the pre-2018 problems were that the lender should have spotted.
Template to complain & the email address to use
The best way to complain is by email. It’s free, instant and you have a record of what you sent and when.
Some lenders want you to complete a form on their website instead. And for some lenders, you have to send a letter.
Here is a list of credit card and catalogue email addresses to use.
In the suggestions below, I’ve invented some examples for the bits in italics in brackets. You must delete or change these to tell your story.
I want to complain about irresponsible lending by you for my Barclaycard account number 987654/444. My date of birth is dd/mm/yy. The email address I used for this account was firstname.lastname@example.org.
Then say they should never have given you the account:
You should never have allowed me to open an account with such a large credit limit. When I applied in 2015, you should have checked my credit record and you would have seen I had recent missed payments to a credit card and a default only two months before on a loan.
Or say that they should not have increased your credit limit:
You should never have increased my credit limit in 2015. At that time I had only made minimum payments on this credit card for a long while and/or I was using a very high level of my credit limit.
If you had properly checked my credit record before increasing my limit, you would have seen that in the two years since my account with you was opened, I had got additional late payment markers and defaults and/or taken out a lot of other credit. This should have warned you I was struggling with my finances and it was not responsible to lend me more. By increasing my credit limit you made my financial position worse. Instead you should have offered me forbearance by freezing the interest on the card.
I do not know the exact months of these credit limit increases. In your reply to this complaint, please tell me when the increases were and how much the limit went up to on each occasion.
If the lender should already have known you had problems with your account, mention these
You should also have realised that I was having difficulty because:
of the late payment charges you added to my account
of the gambling transactions showing on my card statement
I had missed two payments to you the year before in 2017
I had already asked you on the phone if it was possible to stop adding interest for a while.
End with asking for a refund:
I would like you to refund me all the interest I paid and any late payment charges from the point the account was opened
I would like you to refund me all the interest I paid and any late payment charges after you increased my credit limit in 2018.
I would also like any late payment and default markers to be removed from credit records after this point.
I understand that if I take this complaint to the Financial Ombudsman, 8% simple interest is usually added to a cash refund.
Points to think about
These complaints can be made if your account is still open, or if it is closed and settled, or if it is with a debt collector (NB the complaint goes to the original lender, not the debt collector.)
You can complain if you already have a CCJ for the debt. Tell the lender you want the CCJ removed as part of the settlement of your complaint.
If you have had an IVA or bankruptcy after these problems, or if you are still in a DRO, then ask in the comments below, as this can be complicated.
The Financial Ombudsman (FOS) can only go back to April 2007, when the law changed to allow these complaints.
Many lenders will reject complaints about something that was more than 6 years ago and say the ombudsman won’t look at them. But FOS will often look at old problems if you have only found out in the last three years that you can make the complaint.
If your account was opened in 2015 but the lender increased your limit in 2018 and 2019, then the two limit increases are within the last 6 years and can definitely be looked at.
However, complaints about things that happened more than 6 years ago may be hard for you to produce much evidence for. But if you feel you have a strong older case and you have some evidence, then take it to the Ombudsman and let them decide!
An alternative approach for old accounts
If your account was opened a long while ago and you defaulted and still owe a balance, perhaps in a DMP, think about asking the debt collector to produce the Consumer Credit Act agreement for the account.
If the current creditor (not the original lender) can’t produce a proper copy of the agreement, the debt cannot be enforced in court and you can simply stop paying anything to it. This applies to all credit cards, store cards and catalogues.
It may be that the balance on the account is larger than any refund you might get. In which case if the CCA agreement cannot be produced, you would be better off.
Is a refund what you really need?
This depends how large your current financial problems are.
Complaining about newish debt will often only get the interest removed – you still have to repay what you borrowed. Don’t spend months arguing with lenders and going to the ombudsman and still be in a mess at the end even if you have won…
So phone National Debtline on 0808 808 4000, tell them you are thinking about affordability complaints but you would like to know what your other debt options are.
Poor reasons to complain
You can’t complain just because the interest rate was high or because you have paid them a fortune over the years.
A poor credit score on its own isn’t a reason why you shouldn’t have been given an account. But if your credit score was poor because you were having a lot of problems with your existing debt, the account should have been refused.
You won’t win an affordability complaint if something unexpected went wrong later in your life. If you had been managing a credit card fine for years but then you lost your job or separated from your partner and you defaulted, this isn’t the lender’s fault.
Don’t be put off by a rejection or a poor offer
Lenders often reject good cases
If a lender rejects your complaint or offers a low “goodwill” gesture, don’t be fobbed off – they want you to give up.
In particular, if the lender says you had made all the payments to them on time so they had no reason to think you had problems, you can ignore this. Or if the lender dismisses your complaint as the account was opened over 6 years ago.
When you have a Final Response from the lender – or after 8 weeks if you haven’t had a Final Response – send your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).
Is a “partial uphold” good enough?
If the lender says they should not have increased your credit limit in June 2018 when your limit was increased and they will give you a refund of interest for balances over the previous limit, that may sound good. It is sometimes called a partial uphold or a partial refund or proportionate interest.
But often the amount of money refunded in this situation is a lot less than you might expect. So tell the lender you want to consider their offer but need to know how large the refund will be.
Often you were already in a difficult financial situation at that point, with cards close to maxed out, being used for everyday essentials and only paying the minimums. At that point the lender should have stepped in and offered to help you by freezing all interest. That is why a partial refund is often not good enough, you should have all the interest refunded from that point.
How to send a case to FOS
Send FOS a complaint using their online form. You can just copy out what you put in your complaint to the lender but if the lender has rejected your complaint or given a poor offer, mention why you think this wrong.
If your credit record shows that you had other debt problems, send FOS a copy of it. If you have kept some, send the oldest one you have, otherwise send the current one. Also get your bank statements if they will support your complaint and send those to FOS too.
FOS is a friendly service but not fast. Just use normal English, not legal terms. Using a claims company or a solicitor doesn’t help or speed this up.
Ask questions below!
There are hundreds of comments from readers who are using this template. It’s a good place to see how these complaints often go and to ask any questions.