The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has today announced it is investigating three major banks as part of its inquiry into the fairness of bank charges.

It is scrutinising charges from HSBC, Lloyds TSB and Clydesdale Bank. The OFT says these banks’ terms are representative of the rest of the market and the study will help it determine whether charges across the board, of up to £39 a time for a bounced payment or for exceeding your overdraft limit, are fair.

Therefore, this does not mean other banks are off the hook.

The news comes after the House of Lords this week granted banks permission to contest the Court of Appeal’s decision in February that charges can be subject to 'unfair contractual terms' laws.

The Court of Appeal's ruling was a crucial victory for reclaimers, as without it, banks can ignore the OFT verdict on the fairness of charges. The OFT has provisionally suggested they are unfair but this investigation should yield a definitive answer by the end of the year

Bank charge victims have not been able to get their money back since the Financial Services Authority put a hold on claims in July 2007. However, the appeal means they will have to wait even longer before being able to get their charges back, unless they are in financial hardship, in which case the hold does not apply.

An OFT statement says: "The aim is to progress the case in the shortest and most efficient way possible. The OFT believes that the terms of the three selected banks provide the best representative selection of all the banks' unarranged overdraft charging terms, and therefore the outcome of this more focused investigation will be relevant to the assessment of other banks' terms."

Wendy Alcock, banking analyst at, says: "This announcement does not mean the remaining five banks have been let off the hook. If you have started a claim with any bank, don’t worry. It is still in the queue, until a final decision in the test case is reached. For anyone that’s not started their claim, especially those in financial hardship, don’t delay, get it in now."