Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
P.R. writes: I write on behalf of my daughter, who is distraught after receiving a text from NatWest, ending her banking relationship with it and suspending her account.
I was assured this would not affect my account with the bank, but it has as I control a First Saver account for her and this too has been suspended.
Tony Hetherington replies: You contacted me after waiting three weeks in the hope of an explanation from NatWest. You told me you had spoken to various members of staff, but had been passed from pillar to post. Since then it has taken far longer than I imagined to try to get to the bottom of why the bank decided to dump your daughter.
NatWest itself has added to the confusion. You received a letter from the bank, saying it was ending its relationship with you too. The letter referred to the account you operated for your daughter, but it went on to say that the letter may not mention all your accounts.
Blow: The reader’s daughter lost access to £13,000 savings
The strong wording ‘ending its relationship’ with you suggested that all your own accounts were also being closed down with no explanation. The bank then contradicted its own letter to you, saying that you could have an account in your sole name but not a joint account with your daughter. So it was not really ending its relationship with you.
Or was it? You tried to get straight answers from no fewer than 11 officials at the bank, without success, and all this time your daughter had no access to her savings of about £13,000. I did make some headway though, when I contacted officials at NatWest head office. It confirmed that it was only your joint savings account with your daughter that had been affected, and not your other accounts. And they promised to return the £13,000 if your daughter completed a release form.
Intriguingly, the bank told me that legal requirements could mean that ‘while acting in a customer’s interests, NatWest is required to delay or refuse to act on a customer’s instructions’.
This seems to mean that the bank believes your daughter was involved in money laundering or fraud, but NatWest cannot say this bluntly because the same legal requirement makes it an offence to tip off someone who might be under investigation.
The bank has now released your daughter’s money, but it held it in a non-interest-bearing account for some time. This meant she was refused access to her cash and earned no interest.
You have complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service, but the root cause of the problem is far wider than this. Legally, banks are treated just like greengrocers, fishmongers, or any other kind of shopkeeper.
They can refuse to serve anyone they choose as long as they do not discriminate on grounds such as race or religion.
But closing someone’s bank accounts without revealing a reason, and with no appeal, is far more serious than denying them a bunch of bananas or a couple of kippers. It is time the law recognised this.
We’re watching you
Conman: Samuel Exall
The Financial Conduct Authority has recovered £27,000 from convicted conman Samuel Exall, who ran an illegal land investment scheme which The Mail on Sunday warned against over a decade ago. The cash will now be shared between his victims, who lost £2.8 million.
Exall led Synergy Land Group Ltd, which said it had bought land from developers including Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Homes. It offered plots to investors for about £7,000, with the tale that values would rocket to £40,000 within months. The developers had been hit by a fall in house prices and needed the cash, Exall claimed.
I investigated and found that Exall’s sales pitch was all lies. When I questioned him, he told me: ‘Your interest is in writing a story, mine is to continue to run a legitimate commercial enterprise. I do not feel obliged to defend myself before the Court of The Mail on Sunday, as tempting as this might be.’
To which I replied in print that Exall might well find himself as the defendant in a real court.
That was in 2010. A year later, the FCA ordered a halt to Exall’s scheme. And in 2016, Exall appeared at Southwark Crown Court and admitted that the land he was selling was vastly overpriced farmland with no planning permission for building. He was jailed for four years for fraud and banned from acting as a company director for seven years.
Synergy’s land was auctioned in 2019, raising the £27,000 which the FCA will now hand to Exall’s victims. The total number of Synergy investors is unknown. Only 33 victims lodged claims, four of whom have since died.
Therese Chambers, a director at the FCA, said: ‘Tackling financial crime and securing redress for victims is a priority for us.’
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email [email protected]. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.