Abbey: Court Hearings

From Consumer Wiki

Abbey Court Hearings - Important Info

22nd August 2007

If you have a hearing with Abbey sometime in the near future then expect them to turn up to request a stay. Your main objective then is to prevent that happening. You should, of course, then be 100% ready to have the claim heard there and then.

This is in fact an excellent opportunity to rack up a flurry of court decisions against Abbey on the issue of their charges, which would be excellent publicity for us and the campaign and thoroughly disasterous for them. The barrister will almost certainly not have instructions to defend the claim, so if you successfully resist the stay attempt you in effect have an open goal.

There is some additional stuff below to take and learn so as you are well prepared to wipe the floor with them.


Make sure you get your bundle and witness statement in to the court and Abbey beforehand, in compliance with the directions order.

See the bundle and witness statement here -

Abbey Court Bundle & Witness Statement

If you have not used that witness statement, you should submit it ASAP in replacement for whatever you did use. It shouldn't matter that its late if your hearing is in the small claims track, unless you were given an order with a strict deadline.

Have a good read of the statement and get an understanding of the main points. You should also draw up some case notes. With Abbey the argument is reletively simple - the charges clearly arise from breach of contract, so all you need to do is demonstrate to the balance of probabilities that the amount they charge you is well out of preportion to their actual costs. The contents of the bundle should provide you with enough evidence to meet that standard fairly comfortably. Especially important is the Competition Commission report, becouse Abbey were one of the banks who actually submitted data to the Commission.

At Court

Firstly, don't panic. Small claims court is nothing to fear. Nobody expects you to be or know as much as a lawyer - in fact small claims court is designed especially to be used by litigants without the need for lawyers. Just be as well prepared as possible so as you understand and have confidence in your case.

Object to a stay

You need to take a second witness statement with you which contains your arguments in objection to the stay which will inevitably be proposed by Abbey's representitive.

There are 2 template statements to choose from on the site, found or linked from here -

~~## Stays info and guidance ##~~

Also, specific to Abbey claims becouse the charges arise from clear breach of contract, make sure you add at the top of the stay objections template something like this -

Complexity of the Issues

The complexity or otherwise of the legalities arising from the bank charges issue should be viewed in context.

The test case between the banks and the OFT is essentially to determine whether or not the terms permitting the banks to levy their ‘overdraft charges’ are subject to an assessment of fairness under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

The fundamental issue to be tested is whether the contractual provisions permitting such charges fall within the ambit of regulation 5 and are thus subject to an assessment of fairness, as the OFT contend, or whether they are, as the banks contend, excluded by virtue of Regulation 6 because they are a core term or that they relate to the adequacy of the price or remuneration, as against the goods or services supplied in exchange. This is a complex issue of legal interpretation and should be viewed against the background of the banks’ recent policy of restructuring their account contracts to present the charges as being fees for banking services as opposed to damages payable on a breach. All terms expressly prohibiting the exceeding of overdraft limits and making payments without sufficient funds have been re-drafted so as to present the event leading to a charge being made as an “informal request” for an increased overdraft limit. It is in this respect that the test case will determine whether or not the charges are subject to the assessment of fairness notwithstanding such re-drafting of contract terms.

There are no such complex issues in the present case. This claim is not primarily based upon regulation 5 of the UTCCR, and indeed the claimant is prepared to drop that aspect from the claim. The basis of this claim is that the charges imposed arise directly from breaches of contract. This is evidenced by the terms of the account agreement and furthermore, is accepted by the defendant in its defence.

In consequence, the charges are subject to the long settled principles of common law relating to contractual penalty clauses, as pleaded in the particulars of claim. The issue therefore is a simple one of fact – specifically whether the actual cost to the bank of the breach is proportionate to the charges it imposes.

The claimant submits that it is wholly innapropriate and unnecessary to stay a claim at such a late stage in proceedings which can be easily and routinely disposed of by the County Court.

In view of the above, if the court is not minded to proceed today, the claimant respectfully suggests that these proceedings may be adjourned for one month and an order made simular to the draft attached. If the defendant cannot/will not comply with such an order then the defence should be struck out as having no realistic prospect of success.

Defendant's Conduct

The Defendant has repeatedy refused to contest all claims simular to the present for "commercial" or "costs" reasons, yet it now sends a barrister to each hearing solely to argue for a stay. Furthermore the defendant is likely to attend this hearing having breached the order for pre-hearing directions, without instructions to defend the claim, instead relying solely on the court granting a stay. The claimant submits that this is presumptuous and displays the arrogant and disrespectful attitude towards court orders and procedure in general which is entirely typical of the defendant's conduct in these procedings to date.

Also, if possible include additional points in your objections, I.e. will a stay cause you hardship? If so, include that in with as much evidence as you can to back it up.

Abbey's rep will almost certainly not have any instructions to actually defend the claim - they will be relying on getting a stay - and neither will Abbey have submitted any documents beforehand. You should make a big point of this and ask questions such as the following;

Have they complied with the courts directions? Why not? This is a final hearing - why are they not ready to defend? I've prepared my bundle dilligantly, have they got a copy? Why not? Have they even seen it? Have they turned up solely on the assuption a stay will be ordered? Isn't that a little presumptuous? I thought only the court could decide if a stay is ordered or not? What happens if the request is refused and the claim is allowed to proceed today? Why are they turning up to courts just to ask for stays after refusing to attend court for the last 18 months for "costs" reasons? Why didn't they properly apply for a stay 3 weeks ago? ... etc, etc...

If you're successful

If you persuade the judge not to order a stay, well done, next step is getting judgment.

There are 2 steps to this. First, establish that the charges arise from a breach of contract, second that the charge is excessive and unrelated to Abbey's actual costs incurred as a result of the breach. The first step is easy - as Abbey state the charges arise from a breach in their defence.

Second, as per the witness statement, you are alleging Abbey's loss from your breach of contract to be between £0.50 - £1.50 per event of default. You have much circumstantial evidence that this is the case (see bundle), and can also point to Abbey's secrecy around the nature of the "administrative expenses" which its defence states the charges to be proportionate to.

Again, you should really try to pick at the many great big holes in their case. Ask whether the "administrative expenses" are incurred manually or automatically. Ask why they have not provided evidence to substantiate the defence. Ask do they even know what the costs are? If not, why not? Abbey's rep will clearly not be able to refute any of this and if you get an answer which is questionable ask the judge to swear him/her in and ask again under oath.

Also very important evidence is the Competition Commission report, which demonstrates that Abbey are making profits from their charges and that they are unrelated to their costs.

In the alternative

There is also then the option of suggesting an adjournment of 28 days and requesting that an order is made in the meantime which obliges Abbey to disclose what their actual costs are. This would put the matter beyond doubt. Here's a suggested draft order you could propose -

In the XXXXXX County Court

Claim number XXXXXX


XXXXXXXX - Claimant


XXXXX - Defendant

Draft Order for Directions

1. The Defendant shall within [14 days] file and serve a response to the Claimant's witness statement and schedule of charges, stating in respect of each item claimed;

a) Whether such charge is accepted to be a penalty, and if not why not;

b) Whether the defendant's admistrative expenses as referred to in its defence are incurred as a result of manual or automated administration or otherwise;

c) As such charge is alleged to be a genuine pre-estimate of the Defendant's loss incurred by the Claimant's actions, all facts and matters intended to be relied upon as showing that such was a proper estimate of such loss, and all evidence to be adduced at trial as to what the true cost of dealing with the matter was;

d) Copies of decided cases and other legal materials to be relied upon.

If the Defendant fails to comply with this order, the Defence will be struck out without further order.

2. Upon compliance with paragraph 1, the small claims hearing will proceed to be heard at [time] on [date] at XXXXXXX County Court.

Related Pages

Abbey: Court Bundle & Witness Statement

Stays re: OFT Test Case

Application for Removal of Stay: Updated