I have been in considerable debt for several years and tried to reclaim overdraft charges from my sole and joint bank accounts. My argument was they were eating into my wages and debts were spiralling as I could not pay creditors. My mortgage and council tax fell into arrears, with court action threatened.

The charges totalled nearly £4,000, but the bank has flatly refused any refund. Is there anything I can do? I am not the only one in this position, and with the new rules regarding charges from April, will there be any opportunity to claim? JD, London

£4,000 is a shocking punishment for financial hardship and shows why reforms are long overdue.

However, the new rules will require banks to charge only a simple annual interest rate on overdrafts without additional fees. It won’t compel them to cap charges or refund them retrospectively.

Until recently, banks tended to refund customers who threatened to report them for unfair fees but in 2009 a surprise Supreme Court ruling declared that unauthorised overdraft charges were legal. Since then, it’s been far harder to reclaim them.

However, the Financial Ombudsman will still investigate cases where charges have caused a customer severe hardship. Under the Lending Code, banks must treat struggling customers fairly.

Try writing to your bank again, detailing the financial impact and stating that you plan to complain to the Ombudsman. Any offer will be a goodwill gesture rather than an obligation and it may require you to use any refund, full or partial, to pay off your debts or offer an affordable repayment plan in lieu of a rebate.

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Should the bank not budge, you can complain to the Ombudsman if the situation is materially impoverishing you. It has little room for manoeuvre since the charges are legal, but it can decide whether the bank has offered you enough support.

If you need help email Anna Tims at your.problems@observer.co.uk or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions



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