I run a retail business in the West Midlands selling kitchens and bathrooms, which I started in March 2020.
All of my cash flow, amounting to about £48,000, is held in a business bank account with HSBC.
In July last year, I received a letter completely out of the blue saying HSBC ‘no longer wished to provide me with any banking and credit facilities’ and that my account would be suspended while they ‘finalised arrangements’ to close it.
To date I have had no explanation as to why this is being done to me and my business, other than an opaque letter from HSBC stating that it had ‘credit reference and fraud information’.
Frustration: This reader has been denied access to his business bank account for seven months, and says he does not understand why HSBC closed it (stock image)
I have had this all checked out and I cannot find any information.
I am paying my suppliers and the rent on my premises on a credit card, as I have run out of money. I might have to close the doors this month if I can’t get hold of my cash.
It’s just not acceptable. I’ve done nothing wrong, paid my bills all on time – and now I am on the brink of closure and nobody wants to help me.
I have been contacting HSBC customer service on the phone and via email constantly, but I am no closer to getting my money or finding out what is going on. Can you help me?. D.S, Dudley
Helen Crane of This is Money replies: Your business supplies luxury kitchens and bathrooms, but when it comes to your bank account you have found HSBC’s customer service to be anything but top-class.
You say you have spent months trying to work out what is going on, calling and emailing the bank every few days and often getting no response.
Still needing to pay staff and suppliers, it’s fair to say your frustrations have reached boiling point.
So what is happening here? To prevent fraud and protect themselves against losing money, banks have the right to freeze and forcibly close accounts, often without warning.
CRANE ON THE CASE
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This is part of the standard small print that customers sign up to when they open an account.
There are multiple reasons why a suspension or account closure might happen.
A business may have been deemed to have breached a credit agreement with the bank, for example, or a freezing order may have been obtained by one of the company’s creditors.
In more serious cases, the bank may have obtained evidence of fraud or money laundering.
Annoyingly for business owners, the bank is usually not required to give a detailed explanation when it closes an account – and in this case, HSBC has not done so.
You say you have paid all your bills and don’t think you have done anything wrong.
You did take a bounce-back loan of just under £30,000 from HSBC in May 2020, as the pandemic was negatively affecting your business.
You wanted to pay this back in instalments over 10 years under the ‘Pay as You Grow’ scheme, but were told this was not possible as the business had not been operating for long enough to qualify.
While you didn’t agree with that decision, you continued to make repayments until the account was frozen.
You also had substantially more than the balance of the loan sitting in your bank account.
Disappointed: This reader’s business supplies luxury kitchens and bathrooms, but he has found the customer service at his bank HSBC to be anything but high-end (stock image)
I contacted HSBC to ask what was going on, and when it would give you back your much-needed cash.
Sadly, its response did not shed much light on the situation.
It said that it had reviewed your case, and was satisfied that the decision made was the correct one – but as is often the case in these situations, it was unable to give any further explanation.
An HSBC UK spokesperson said: ‘We are complying with our statutory obligations.’
I understand your frustration at this, as you have had an incredibly tough time trying to run your business and still don’t understand why this freeze happened.
There is some good news, however.
HSBC has told me it has now put a cheque in the post for your entire account balance, minus the amount of the bounce back loan – which should amount to around £18,000.
After six months without access to your cash – not to mention the endless wasted hours going back and forth with HSBC customer service and getting nowhere – you should now be able to get your hands on it within days.
I hope receiving the £18,000 allows you to clear some of your debts and get on with running your business in the meantime.
While HSBC is within its rights to do this, it’s not clear why it has dragged on so long and why a solution couldn’t have been reached without our intervention.
You have told me you are speaking to the Financial Ombudsman Service, with the hope of receiving some compensation for the debts that you incurred when your account was frozen.
Hopefully you can recover some of your losses and your business will be cooking on gas once more.
Music to his ears: Reader Chris was pleased with John Lewis’ speedy resolution when the delivery of some Apple airpods he ordered got delayed (picture posed by model)
Hit and miss: This week’s naughty and nice list
Every week, I look at the companies who have fallen short when it comes to customer service, and those who have gone above and beyond.
Hit: Reader Chris tweeted us to tell us about his positive experience with John Lewis.
Its reputation for good customer service was up in the air when he ordered some Apple wireless earphones that were then delayed in transit.
However, John Lewis managed to turn things around by offering a speedy resolution and no irritating excuses.
Chris said: ‘I ordered two sets of airpods from John Lewis and was supposed to pick them up from a Waitrose store the next day.
‘I kept getting emails saying they were delayed. I phoned their customer service and the guy was really good, saw the problem, said “I am sorry, I can get them delivered to your home next day with no fee”.’
‘Even though I had a problem and got them a day or two later than originally planned, just really appreciated the good service and no excuses. I wanted to mention it as we so often get bad customer service.’
That’s music to our ears.
Caught out: Reader Warren faced a desperate search for fuel during the nationwide petrol shortages at the end of 2021, and ended up with a parking ticket as a result
Miss: Unfortunately, reader Warren from London has been driven mad while trying to sort out a parking charge with Camden Council.
During the fuel shortage at the end of 2021, he had been driving around desperately trying to find a station that still had petrol available for him to fill up.
After hours of failed attempts, his car ran out of fuel and he was forced to leave it in a no-parking zone overnight, while he located some petrol to get him up and running again.
This resulted in a parking ticket of £65 – but this increased to £130 after he did not pay it within 14 days.
The reason for the delay was that he disputed the decision with Camden Council, saying the charge was unfair because of the very unusual circumstances.
Warren paid the charge as he did not want it to increase any further, but still believed the council was in the wrong.
But when I got in touch with Camden, it firmly slammed the brakes on any hopes of getting the charge refunded.
A Camden Council spokesperson said: ‘We always strive to carefully consider the individual circumstances regarding any Penalty Charge Notices that could have been influenced by vehicle breakdowns or unplanned events.
‘Running out of fuel is not considered an unplanned event and it is reasonable to expect that drivers should remain vigilant of their fuel level and plan any journeys accordingly, especially when there are issues with supply as experienced last year.
‘On this occasion, [the] vehicle had not stopped near his address, which is outside Camden, nor was it stranded near to a fuel garage, and no further information to mitigate these circumstances was provided.’
I’m sorry, but it seems as if your attempt to get this sorted has run out of gas.
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