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Customer awarded damages for harassment by their bank

In the case of Roberts v Bank of Scotland PLC [2013] EWCA Civ 882, the UK Court of Appeal upheld an award of damages against the Royal Bank of Scotland for harassment.

The case was brought as a civil claim under section 1 (1) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which provides:
“A person must not pursue a course of conduct (a) which amounts to harassment of another and (b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of another”.

Details of the case

According to the Bank’s log, 547 calls or attempted calls were made to the claimant from December 2007 to January 2009. The claimant was greatly distressed by the “bombardment” of phone calls and took proceedings in the County Court claiming damages.

In its defence, the Bank admitted making a large number of phone calls to their customer but denied that these amounted to harassment. The Bank asserted the calls were reasonable attempts to contact its customer and counterclaimed for £10,941.37 outstanding on the customer’s accounts.

Court ruling

The Court of Appeal held that

  • it was clear that the customer was in breach of contract by exceeding her overdraft,
  • that the bank was entitled to contact her to “seek a mutually acceptable resolution of the problem”,
  • the existence of the debt did not, however, give the creditor the right to “bombard the debtor with endless and repeated telephone calls”.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the County Court which had awarded the claimant £7,500 in damages. (The court had also given judgment to the Bank in favour of the sum counterclaimed, which was not in dispute).

The court held that the Bank’s conduct achieved the requisite level of seriousness to constitute harassment within the meaning of the 1997 Act. It was harassment “which could have been prosecuted in the criminal courts.”

Practical use

Similar issues were raised in a recent Housing Rights Service Chancery case. The borrower had entered in to an arrangement with the lender to repay an agreed amount each month towards the arrears and the case had been adjourned to monitor payments. Despite this, the lender continued to regularly phone the borrower seeking larger repayments and threatening the borrower with the loss of his home. Whilst not specifically defining the behaviour in that particular case as harassment, the Master commented that such behaviour could amount to contempt of court.

For further Chancery cases that could impact on your work look to our seminar on the impact of negative equity in possession proceedings.

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Case law, Legal