Consumers in hardship hit with overdraft fees have received some reclaiming hope from the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Anyone struggling financially may still have their claim heard by the independent complaints arbitrator, as may anyone who inadvertently slips marginally over their limit but gets clobbered with huge fees.

The news comes after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of current account providers in the landmark test case on charges which may have dashed many consumers' chances of reclaiming fees (see the Reclaiming blow as banks win appeal MSE News story).

The Ombudsman has told it may still consider some new and old cases. However, the majority of claims where consumers have simply argued charges are unfair, who are not in hardship, are likely to automatically fail (see the Bank Charges Result Q&A).

It currently has 15,000 claims on hold from those who made complaints between July 2007 and yesterday. During that time the Financial Services Authority allowed current account providers and the Ombudsman to sit on complaints (see the FSA ends hold MSE News story).

Even if your case is heard, it does not mean you will necessarily succeed in getting fees back as the Ombudsman still needs to make a judgment.

The Ombudsman is likely to consider claims under the following circumstances, with no time limit on how far back you can claim:

  • If you're in financial hardship.
  • Where you've unintentionally slipped over your limit and the charge is disproportionate to the 'offence'. Eg, you go £5 over but are charged £35.
  • Where you're incurring a consistent cycle of charges you cannot break out of.

An Ombudsman spokesman says: "The door is closed for most but there are instances around the periphery where we can consider complaints."

Martin Lewis, founder, says: "This is another spec of light amongst the dark clouds for reclaimers.

"We will be watching how those currently with the Ombudsman fare. Once we can ascertain who is most likely to be successful, we will encourage others in similar circumstances, even if they've not claimed, to go for it that way too."

You can usually only complain to the Ombudsman eight weeks after complaining to your bank or building society or if you've received a firm rejection.

If your case is currently on hold in court, it's likely you'll have to apply for the hold on your case to be lifted as the Judiciary office has yet to make a decision on the future of court claims nationwide.

Other Bank Charges Links

Official Judgment: Supreme Court
Party leader letters to MSE: Brown, Cameron and Clegg
Reclaiming Guide: Bank Charges.