Financial Conduct Authority demands fair treatment of vulnerable people.

The FCA has recently published guidance aimed at financial firms and banks to ensure firms make improvements in the way they treat vulnerable and at-risk customers. They say this should help people from being victims of mis-selling and suffering financial hardship because of it.

The FCA recent study estimated there are around 27.7 million people in the UK with some form of characteristics of vulnerability and while every individual is responsible for their own choices and decisions, there are some factors that may limit vulnerable people’s ability to make sound financial decisions. These people are more likely to be victims of mis-selling and the FCA wants greater protection to stop this from happening.

The FCA’s finalised guidance says: “We want to see the fair treatment of vulnerable customers embedded as part of a healthy culture throughout firms, not just on the front line but also in areas such as product development. “Firms’ senior leaders should create and maintain a culture that enables and supports staff to take responsibility for reducing the potential for harm to vulnerable customers. They should ensure that firms embed the fair treatment of vulnerable customers in their policies and processes throughout the whole customer journey. We have seen some good examples where commitment comes from the top and where there is a culture of feedback and learning from the front line.”

The pandemic has highlighted how important it is to protect vulnerable people and one of the best ways to do this is for financial institutions and firms to follow strict guidance set out by the FCA. The FCA have now released new guidance on how firms and their staff should ensure vulnerable consumers are treated fairly and they want every company across all sectors to take steps to ensure they understand and respond to the needs of their most vulnerable customers.

Under this new guidance the FCA plans to hold firms accountable when dealing with vulnerable people and can be asked to explain and demonstrate how they deal with vulnerable people, what systems they have in place, what training is given to staff and what actions they take to ensure customers are treated fairly.

Firms are also reminded that in treating customers fairly, they should also be aware of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010. It is likely that a breach of the Equality Act, for example failure to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people, will also be a breach of the FCA’s rules.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of charity the Money Advice Trust, said: “The FCA’s finalised vulnerability guidance published today is a powerful call to action for financial services firms to further improve their work on vulnerability – and comes at a time when millions of people are facing difficulty as a result of the pandemic. Financial services have and will continue to play an important role in supporting people through this crisis. This new guidance, however, provides a crucial steer for firms on what steps they need to take now to ensure their support reflects the complexities of people’s real lives. While we have seen much progress already from firms in recent years through our training work, it is crucial that firms further build on this. We look forward to working with firms to bring the FCA’s expectations into reality for their customers.”

Homeowners left worse off by ‘Green Deals’.

Ministers have been urged to help homeowners who signed up to Green Deals with dissolved company Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Limited also known as (HELMS) as they are still waiting for claims to be processed, years later.

The company was dissolved in 2016 after more than 3,000 Scottish households were left with long-term debts after signing up to new boiler, home insulation or solar panels. HELMS were approved installers for the governments green deal scheme to help homeowners improve energy efficiency, a scheme which was later withdrawn in 2013.

During the time the scheme was running thousands of people signed up, and many of those have been left in debt. Many people signed up to 25 year long deals which were funded using finance, which many people claim they were unaware of. In fact, many elderly people were signed up to the scheme, including Mary Hunter, 88 from Glasgow who was left with long term debts after she signed up to get a new boiler, solar panels, and insulation. She told the Scottish Herald: “I saw some neighbours getting cladding done and I thought it might be a good idea and would bring down the energy bills but when I asked about it, I was told about solar panels and a boiler and other things as well. I did not need those things, but I was told the government was paying for them as part of a scheme. I signed up and then I started getting these bills through. It said I had taken a loan out for 25 years. I was 82 when I signed up, I would need to be 107 to pay it off.”

There were many others in a similar position that were persuaded to signing up to this, or similar deals. Appeals for compensation are being dealt with different organisations including the Department for Business Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The BEIS has been urged to speed up these complaints’ years later, but they say due to the complexity, these claims are taking time to process.

Scottish ministers have got involved now, as these claims have been outstanding for an unacceptable amount of time and victims have been left with debts up to £11,000 and some even have been unable to sell their homes as the work carried out was done so without the correct warranties and certificates.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “There is a robust process, backed by legislation, for handling complaints about mis-selling of Green Deal plans by Helms. If they remain dissatisfied after approaching their Green Deal provider and the Ombudsman, consumers may appeal to the Secretary of State, who can cancel or reduce loans if the evidence supports this. These cases are being treated as a priority by BEIS.”

What was the Green Deal?

The ‘Green Deal’ was launched in 2013 and allowed homeowners to make energy saving improvements which would not cost the homeowner anything upfront, but it would be paid for through savings on energy bills. So, if your energy bills were £1,000 a year when you applied for the loan, your energy bill plus Green Deal repayments should not have been more than that. But this did not always work in practice, as some low users could have ended up paying more as they used less energy than average. Not only that, but as the loan was attached to the home, rather than the person applying, there were fears it could make a property difficult to sell. In July 2015, the UK government pulled the plug on the scheme, due to low uptake – only about 15,000 Green Deal loans were issued over the two-and-a-half years the scheme was open.

 

Scammers posing as Police Officers

Police are warning the public after a spate of distressing scams targeting vulnerable and elderly people. Scammers are pretending to be officials from banks and police services and coercing people into handing over cash and valuable items.

The scam starts with a victim being cold called by someone pretending to be from either their bank or the police. They then instruct victims to withdraw money after which they will be visited at their home address and this money will be collected from them. In a similar scam, victims are told to transfer money into a secure bank account and give fraudsters their bank cards or valuable items such as watches and jewellery. Fraudsters have even been so bold as to pose as police officers and visit victims home addresses and collect bank cards from them, telling victims that their accounts have been compromised and if they do not do what they are asked they could risk losing all the money held in their accounts. For those who fall victim to such scams the repercussions can be devastating as the money is hard to recover and they have come face to face with a criminal. To make matters worse criminals mainly single out and target elderly and vulnerable people who are trusting of the police and their banks as they are more likely to have had the same bank account for many years.

Police are warning that during the pandemic people are more likely to fall for these types of scams as they are more isolated at home during lockdown, and more willing to engage in conversation with people they do not know.

To protect themselves people are being asked to think before they engage with anyone initiating contact with you or claiming to be from your bank or the police. Neither a bank nor the police will call you and ask you to disclose your personal details or pin number over the phone. They will also never arrange to pick up your bank card via a courier and if you receive calls from people claiming to do this, you should hang up the phone immediately. Often a scammer will keep your phone line open so if you do try to call the bank back it could be the scammer still on the other end. So, to further protect yourself, make sure you have fully hung up the line by waiting five minutes before you make a call, or alternatively use a different number to make a call.

Action Fraud recommend the following to protect yourselves and loved ones from falling victim:

  • Your bank or the police will never call you to ask you to verify your personal details or PIN by phone or offer to pick up your bank card by courier. Hang up immediately if you receive a call like this.
  • If you need to contact your bank back to check the call was legitimate, wait five minutes; fraudsters may stay on the line after you hang up. Alternatively, use a different line altogether to contact your bank.
  • Your debit or credit card is yours: do not let a stranger take it from you. You should only ever have to hand it over at your bank. If it is cancelled or expired, you should destroy it yourself.

Spot the tell-tale signs:

  • Someone claiming to be from your bank or local police force calls you to tell you about fraudulent activity, but is asking you for personal information, or even your PIN, to verify who you are.
  • They are offering to call you back so you can be sure they are genuine, but when you try to return the call, there is no dial tone.
  • They say they are trying to offer you peace of mind by having somebody pick up the card for you, to save you the trouble of having to go to your bank or local police station.
BT could owe customers millions in compensation.

BT Group PLC is facing a lawsuit which could see the communications giant compensating millions of customers for overcharging them.

In 2017 British watchdog Ofcom found BT had been overcharging its landline customers since 2009. BT agreed to reduce landline customers’ bills by £7 each but failed to compensate customers who had been overcharged for the previous 8 years. The lawsuit is being brought to represent all of these customers by CALL the Collective Action on Land Lines, who say these affected customers were more likely to be elderly, vulnerable and low-income households. In response BT released a statement: “We take our responsibilities to older and more vulnerable customers very seriously and will defend ourselves against claims that suggest otherwise.”

Under current legislation it is not possible for the claim to go back as far as 2009, however CALL is seeking damages for affected customers from 2015 and this could mean BT faces a bill of just under £600 million to compensate the 2.3 million BT landline customers.

If you think you were affected by the BT overcharging you can read more about it here and see if you are eligible to make a claim: BT faces £600m lawsuit over ‘overcharging’ – BBC News

Solar panel scammers have been ordered to repay victims.

A group of six scammers, believed to have made more than £17 million in a solar panel scam have been ordered to pay back money they made from the thousands of vulnerable and elderly people they conned.

After a nearly four-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, in 2018 six men were sentenced to a total of 30 years and 4 months behind bars for their part in the scam. Two brothers, thought to be the ringleaders, concocted a sophisticated scam, using the legitimacy of the Government Feed in Tariff, the scheme involved selling and installing residential solar panels. The fraudsters would target vulnerable, retired, and elderly people, promising them incentives that they would make extra money from energy their solar panels produced, and they would be able to sell this extra energy back to the grid. They also conned victims into believing any extra money they made would cover the cost of loans they may need to take out to purchase the panels. Victims were told they would be reimbursed the cost of installation over a five-year period, essentially lying to victims that the solar panels would eventually cost nothing, and they would make money back from them in the future whilst saving money on their own energy bills. The reality was, these conmen used a sophisticated scam to con innocent people by using deceitful sales techniques, lies and fraudulent guarantees. Some victims lost hundreds, but most lost thousands in the scam, some lost as much as £35,000.

The ringleaders, Ludovic Black was sentenced to seven years six months and his brother David Diaz sentenced to four years six months. Stephen Wilson and Robert Ross were both sentenced to four years six months and directors of the company Kenneth Reid and Niall Hastie were both sentenced to three years and six months each. After proceedings, an investigation into the profits made during the con found that in total the company made £17 million, Wilson and Ross were ordered to payback £220,000 and £193,206 respectively. The money will be used to pay compensation to victims under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Lisa Osofsky, Director of the Serious Fraud Office said:

“These men built predatory schemes to steal thousands from the hard-earned savings of vulnerable people while pretending to offer them a chance to improve their own financial security.

“I’m extremely proud of the way our team worked hand-in-hand with law enforcement partners to untangle this complex and predatory fraud.”

What is a solar panel scam?

Solar panels have been mis-sold to thousands of consumers on the basis that installing them will help a household save money on their energy bills whilst reducing carbon footprint. The problem is that many companies, not all acting fraudulently, have made claims to help sell solar panels, that are not exactly truthful. We are approached regularly by clients who say they were promised their solar panels would create enough energy to reduce their bills and in fact they would be able to generate more energy than they need, so they could sell this additional energy back to the governments feed in tariff scheme. This has rarely been the case and more often than not people are left paying huge bills for finance agreements set up by the solar panel companies. In reality they fail to make enough energy to benefit from the government scheme and are left substantially out of pocket paying for high interest loans.

If you feel that you have paid for solar panels and not seen any of the benefits you were promised, then they may have been mis-sold to you. If you are not happy with the promises made by the Solar Panels Company or supplier, then you can start a claim for a refund of your money. If you have paid for all or even just a deposit by credit card, then the credit card company is as responsible to you as the Solar Panel company who sold them to you. If the company arranged a retail finance agreement with a bank or finance company, then the finance company are also liable to you in the event that you were mis-sold solar panels.

How do I start my Solar Panel Claim?

If you honestly feel that you were mis-sold the solar panels and qualify by paying for them by card (even part payment) or finance agreement, we will be able to assist you. Simply call us for help or use the form on this page to submit your details. You should upload whatever documentation you have in support of your claim and we will assess the likelihood of a successful claim, free of charge.

In order to fully assess the claim, please provide us with:

  • Full contact details of the Solar Panel Company.
  • Full details of any finance arranged to pay for the Solar Panels and a copy of the agreement if you have it.
  • The dates that the transaction to made / order date etc.
Man, who stole personal data is sentenced.

An employee of RAC has been sentenced in crown court to eight months imprisonment for stealing personal customer information and selling it on to an accident claims management company.

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) investigated after they were alerted to a possible data breach following a spate of nuisance calls to an individual who had been involved in road traffic accidents. The offense first came to light when a fleet management company were alerted by one of its customers to being repeatedly called about an accident, they had been involved in. The fleet company brought this to the attention of the RAC who then conducted a data leakage scan of its internal email system and discovered one if its own employees had been compiling lists of data.

The ICO then got involved and discovered the employee had sold this data to an accident claims company who had then used it to make nuisance telephone calls. The defendant pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to 8 months, suspended for two years, and ordered to pay back £15,000 within 3 months or face more time behind bars. The individual behind the company which purchased the data were also sentenced to 100 hours community service and ordered to pay back £25,000, both individuals will face time behind bars if these figures are not paid back within three months under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Mike Shaw, who heads up the Criminal Investigations Team at the ICO said:

“Those who believe that this is a victimless crime without consequences, need to think again. These criminal acts have a detrimental impact on the public and businesses. People’s data is being accessed without consent and businesses are putting resources into tracking down criminals. Once the data is in the hands of claims management companies, people are subjected to unwanted calls which can in turn lead to fraudulent personal injury claims.

“Offenders must know that we will use all the tools at our disposal to protect people’s information and prevent it from being used to make nuisance calls.

“This case shows that we can, and will take action, and that could lead to a prison sentence for those responsible. Where appropriate we will work with partner agencies to make full use of the Proceeds of Crime Act to ensure that criminals do not benefit financially from their criminal behaviour.”

How does Proceeds of Crime Act Work?

Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 or (POCA) often can mean a convicted person faces harsher punishment then the original crime they were sentenced for. If you are convicted of a criminal offence and the prosecution believe you benefited financially through this then they can begin proceedings against you to recover any money made due to this crime. Any asset that you acquired during the six years prior to the start of proceedings is open to confiscation. The court can assume what assets were obtained during this period using the proceeds of crime. This can include property, vehicles, equipment, and business assets. If an individual fails to pay the amount set by the court, they will be ordered to face jailtime and the confiscation order lasts a lifetime, meaning if you acquire assets in the future, even legitimately, they can still be confiscated from in until the debt is paid.

Important information regarding Club La Costa

Further to our previous correspondence, you will no doubt be aware that it has now been announced that the Spanish branch of Club La Costa (UK) Plc has been placed into liquidation. This includes all of the Spanish companies owned and operated by CLC.

Given the way that the timeshare industry works, it is likely that various companies will seek to contact you to try and obtain money from you. Before that happens, we would like to set-out the correct position. At this stage, we are taking advice from senior Counsel about the effect of the liquidation. Until we have received that advice, we simply will not have a clearer picture of CLC’s current position.

However, we are sure of the following: 

  • The liquidation of the Spanish branch of Club La Costa (UK) Plc does not, in any way, affect the work we have done to bring to an end your maintenance fee payments;

 

  • If you have sought advice and instructed another firm in Spain to progress a claim against CLC through the Spanish Courts then that claim will now not result in any compensation;

 

  • If you currently have a claim with us, which has been presented to the Financial Ombudsman Service, then you are in the best possible position, as the liquidation affects only CLC and not the finance companies which provided the finance to you; and,

 

  • If you have previously been advised that you had a potential claim against CLC, but that claim was “out of time”, then you should contact us immediately, as the position may have manifestly changed.

 

As above, until we have taken detailed advice, we are not in a position to speculate as to the effect of the liquidation of the Spanish branch of Club La Costa (UK) Plc on matters moving forward. However, we are sure that it does not affect your termination and/or your claim now. The only effect will be that it assists your termination and/or claim, but we are seeking this further advice to clarify the position further.

For the avoidance of doubt, there will be no negative impact upon your termination and/or claim as a consequence of the liquidation.

Our advice regarding cold-callers, whether that be by telephone, email or letter, stands: cold-calling is illegal and, unless you have given your permission to the company contacting you, their conduct should be reported to the authorities. If they seek to provide you with advice which contradicts the above, then they are wrong.

Once we have received further advice, we will contact you again and explain the position in greater detail.

More clients win their money back!

Every year banks reject hundreds of thousands for claims for mis-sold products and services, mainly those that are made directly from the customer. Few members of the public will have enough knowledge of how banks operate and what they require, in order to take the complaint further and be able to have a successful outcome. Banks are very good at arguing against customer complaints and if a claim is not argued correctly, the bank will reject it. And why wouldn’t they? There are thousands of products and services which are unfair and were mis-sold.

The team here at Mis-sold Claims Assist deal with many types of consumer mis-selling claims. Whether it be a holiday product, a bank dispute or a financial service that was mis-handled, our team are experts at arguing cases to get a successful claim for our clients. That is exactly what we did for our latest clients who were the victims of a fraudulent holiday package scheme back in 2017.

Our clients were approached by a company, who on the face of it seemed legitimate, they even had a professional looking website and advertised regularly. They were asked to attend a meeting about a holiday points product that would offer them huge discounts, something that was exclusive to them and not available anywhere else. As way of an incentive to attend they were offered a free night in a luxury hotel for their trouble. Like the many millions of other people who attend such sales presentations they agreed in good faith, reassured that it was just a short presentation, and they would not be forced into signing up to anything.

They attended the meeting and, again like many other clients we hear from, were forced to sit through a 5-hour presentation on the holiday points scheme this company were selling. The sales representative showed them examples of the savings they could make over the next few years on holidays, flights, and other heavily discounted items if they agreed to pay the £10,000 price tag. Our clients explained that they did not have this sort of cash to spend and tried to end the meeting. The salesperson continued on and offered them the same package at a discounted price of £6,500 After hours and hours being held in these offices, in an unfamiliar environment, our clients agreed to sign up and paid a large deposit using their credit card.

It was not until sometime later, when they attempted to use their new holiday package that they found it nearly impossible to use. The discounts they were promised were cheaper elsewhere and when they attempted to book anything, they found they could not access any of the offers they were promised. Eventually they got in touch with the team here at Mis-Sold Claims Assist and thankfully for our clients we have been able to claim their money back through the finance provider, however there are many other companies and individuals to take their place and people continue to be taken advantage of with similar fraudulent schemes. If you or anyone you know has fallen victim to such a fraud, get in touch with us today. We have great success in arguing these types of claims and could help win you your money back.

Another successful claim

Our team at Mis-sold Claims Assist deal with many types of consumer mis-selling claims. Whether it be a holiday product, a bank dispute or a financial service that was mis-handled, our team are experts at arguing cases to get a successful claim for our clients. It comes with many years of experience to argue a successful claim, that is why it is so important to choose the correct people to work on your behalf.

Our claim today was for another ‘Concierge and Lifestyle’ package that was sold to our clients in 2016 after they were cold-called and asked to attend a short presentation. They attended the meeting and were kept there for hours whilst the salesperson explained the benefits of signing up to their package. What they were selling was a so called ‘Concierge and Lifestyle’ package which would provide them with discounted holidays, flights, accommodation, and other benefits. The package was being sold for £10,000 which our clients felt was too expensive, which they explained to the salesperson. However, the salesperson had an answer for every objection to making a purchase they made. It was quite clear they did not want to spend this amount of money, but the salesperson persisted and eventually offered them a discounted price of £7,800. Feeling worn down by the relentless sales pitch, they decided to sign up there and then. They paid half the money on their credit card and half via a bank transfer.

It was not until a few months later when they came to use the online booking system that they discovered it was incredibly difficult to book anything they felt suited their needs. In fact, when they investigated it further, they found they could book similar holidays online for much lower prices. They also could not access any of the other discounts that were promised to them, such as discounted telephone contracts and utility bills. At this point they started to worry and contacted the company. Shockingly they discovered that the company had ceased trading and could not get hold of anyone at the offices. After searching for the company online they learnt that the company had been forced to close and in fact the company director had been arrested in relation to charges of fraud.

Fearing they had lost their money all together, they finally reached out to our team at Mis-Sold Claims Assist and after listening to everything that happened with this company we put together an argument and presented it to the credit card company. Luckily for our clients this was a clear case of fraud and misrepresentation by this scam company and we have been able to re-coup all their money plus interest. The owners of the company were later convicted in court and sentenced.

Warning: Scammers posing as HMRC again!

HM Revenue and Customs are warning that scammers are targeting people filing their tax returns in new scam.

Criminals are yet again posing as HMRC in another scam sending out realistic looking text messages to people completing their tax returns. Every year the government department issues thousands of SMS messages and emails as part of its annual reminder to those who are self-employed. The annual tax return deadline is January 31, 2021, and HMRC are reporting a sharp increase in people being contacted by fraudsters.

Fraudsters are using realistic looking emails and texts to contact those who are self-employed, making it very difficult for people to tell the difference. Once they have obtained personal information, they are calling people up and claiming they are eligible for a ‘tax rebate’, once they have their bank information, they can steal money from victims accounts.

HMRC say that over the last 12 months they have received 846,000 complaints from members of the public about suspicious emails and texts and this is believed to be the tip of the iceberg. Most scams send emails or texts out informing customers that they are owed a fake rebate or a tax refund. Fraudsters lure people in and convince them to hand over personal information like bank account details, name, address and even National Insurance numbers. They will then attempt to steal money from people’s accounts. In addition to these fraudsters create what is known as ‘sucker lists’ which supplies personal information of potential victims which is then sold amongst criminals on the dark web. Once a victim has been targeted it is likely they will then be targeted multiple times once their name has made its way onto a sucker list.

HMRC’s Interim Director General for Customer Services, Karl Khan, said:

“We know that criminals take advantage of the Self-Assessment deadline to panic customers into sharing their personal or financial details and even paying bogus ‘tax due’. If someone calls, emails or texts claiming to be from HMRC, offering financial help or asking for money, it might be a scam. Please take a moment to think before parting with any private information or money.”

Ways to spot a tax scam

It could be a scam if it:

  • is unexpected
  • offers a refund, tax rebate or grant
  • asks for personal information like bank details
  • is threatening
  • tells you to transfer money.

Self-Assessment customers can complete their tax return online and help and support is available on GOV.UK.

To protect against identity fraud customers must verify their identity when accessing HMRC’s online services. They must have two sources of information including:

  • credit reference agency data
  • tax credits
  • P60/payslip
  • UK Passport