Martin Lewis: Car finance FREE reclaim tool & guide 

Are you due £1,000s back from the hidden discretionary commission scandal?

Did you buy a car, van or motorbike on PCP or Hire Purchase (not leasing) before 28 Jan 2021? If so, you could be due £1,000s back. The regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has launched a major investigation into hidden, unfair car finance commission. This could lead to billions of pounds of overcharged interest paid back to millions of people.

This step-by-step guide includes our unique free car finance reclaim tool so you needn’t pay a claims firm. Even though there's a pause on firms needing to deal with complaints, its important to get your complaint logged sooner, so there’s less chance you’ll be timed out.

In about 40% of car finance deals, there were hidden 'discretionary commission arrangements'. This is where lenders allowed brokers & car dealers to up the interest to increase their commission – so you overpaid, without knowing.

The first thing to do is to find out if you were impacted... our tool will help you do that.

In January 2021, the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) banned ‘discretionary commission arrangements’ (DCAs). This stopped lenders allowing brokers (including car dealers) to increase interest rates on car finance, so that they’d be bunged more commission (even though they did no work). It's an unfair practice, as consumers weren't told, and many  thinking it a fixed price  didn't negotiate. 

On 11 January 2024, the FCA launched a major investigation into this. To announce such a public wide-scale investigation, it will already have substantial evidence. What it's doing now is building that at a firm-by-firm level using its heightened investigatory powers. 

I think it likely that, when the investigation completes (currently planned to be September), the FCA will set up some type of mass-scale redress scheme  though there's a small chance it'll change its mind and say this is a damp squib. The best way to act is to assume that scheme is coming. This guide does that, and takes you through a simple complaint route (as opposed to a more complex option of going to court, for which most would require legal support).

ACT NOW if your car finance may've had a discretionary commission arrangement

The FCA has extended the period of time motor finance firms can deal with discretionary commission arrangement complaints (received after 17 November 2023) while it investigates. In effect this means while it encourages firms to progress complaints, they don't have to make any decisions until the FCA reports the findings of its investigation (currently scheduled to be 25 September 2024, but there's a possibility it'll be extended). You can read the FCA's consumer help on discretionary commission arrangements for more. 

Even with the FCA's pause in place, we think it's worth logging a complaint now to help reduce the risk of being ruled out if a future time limit is imposed. Plus a time-logged complaint may be useful if it were to go to court in future. 

There's no need to use a claims management firm to complain – it'd take a cut of any money you're due. Our free tool below should help. 

It's too early to say whether claims will be dealt with en masse or on an individual basis when the pause is lifted, so there could be more hoops to jump through as the investigation unfolds. We'll keep you updated in the free weekly MSE email

Prefer to watch instead of read? Martin covers all the details in this clip from his show...

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You can't be blacklisted for complaining

From memory, in the early days of bank charge reclaiming, way back in 2005, some people complained to me that firms were blacklisting those complaining. The Ombudsman quickly ruled out this sharp practice. Since then, firms are not allowed to block your custom or change the products they offer to you if you've made complaints – so you shouldn't be worried. 

To be double-sure though, we checked with the FCA, and it told us: "We'd like to confirm that anyone submitting a claim won't be 'blacklisted' by a company or have claims included in any product application assessments (even with linked firms)."

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The 'are you likely to be affected?' checklist

The FCA estimates 95% of car finance deals had a commission model, and 40% the crucial ‘discretionary commission arrangements’. If yours did, and it wasn’t made clear – which it almost never was – we reckon you're likely to be entitled to money back when the FCA finishes its investigation and un-pauses complaints (scheduled for 25 September 2024, but may be extended). Check if it likely applies to you...

This is for those who bought a motor vehicle on finance. This includes cars, vans, campervans and motorbikes (caravans without a motor aren't included).

The finance agreement had to be taken out before 28 Jan 2021 (and most likely after April 2007). We suspect this will apply to... 

- those who still have an agreement in place
plus those whose agreement ended within the last six years
and maybe those complaining within three years of learning of the issue, which as this has only just gone mainstream, may mean those with much older agreements are eligible too. 

This is one reason for the rush – the sooner you log your complaint, the less likely it is you will be at risk of being timed out.  

There's a strong possibility you won't be able to complain about agreements made before 6 April 2007, as this is when the Financial Ombudsman took over jurisdiction of motor finance complaints, though exact rules will likely be part of results the FCA's investigation.

The vehicle had to be for primarily personal not business use. Commuting comes within personal use, but using it more than occasionally for business or paying on your business will likely mean it won't count.

Some vehicles that have been financed through a business agreement could be included, but only if they have been used for primarily non-business reasons and financed through a regulated credit agreement for under £25,000 (for clarity, the £25,000 cap only applies to these business agreements, there is no cap on personal finance agreements). 

You CAN reclaim on behalf of someone who has passed away. Though it's likely the lender will want to see a copy of the will and the grant of probate to ensure any compensation due goes to the right person.

It DOES include Personal Contract Purchases (PCP). Personal Contract Purchase are where you make loan-like repayments with the option to pay a larger 'balloon' payment at the end if you want to own the car. 

It DOES include hire purchase. Hire purchase is where you pay off the total value of the car in monthly instalments.  

You CAN still claim if the car's now paid off, so the agreement is over. You are still eligible to reclaim. In fact, even if the car was repossessed, that doesn't change your right to claim. 

You CAN claim even if you've already submitted a claim for diesel emissions. This is a separate issue, and complaints about hidden discretionary commission won't impact any separate claim about diesel emissions.  

It DOESN'T include Personal Contract Hire. Personal Contract Hire is what people usually talk about as leasing a car. This isn't included in the FCA investigation – if you had this type of finance agreement, this guide isn't for you. 

It DOESN'T include interest-free finance.  If you had a genuine 0% interest deal, then by definition there was no 'discretionary commission arrangement' between the lender and the broker, as these DCAs were all about increasing the interest.  

If you had multiple eligible car finance deals, you may be due multiple payouts. Each case is individual. Our free tool allows you to make requests by car finance provider (so if you had two agreements with the same firm you can do that together, but if they were with separate firms, you must do two.)

Your car finance may have been mis-sold in other ways

This guide is specifically about discretionary commission mis-selling. You may have also been mis-sold due to a lack of clarity over costs or the conditions of your contract, poor affordability checks, or because your vehicle was faulty or in an unsatisfactory condition. 

These types of complaints aren't affected by the FCA's investigation – for those head to the MSE Car finance mis-selling – are you affected? guide.

This involves 100s of firms...

Both brand-specific and generalist car finance firms are involved, and those featured below are simply an example of the types of firms we're talking about. As a general rule, if you took out a PCP or HP contract on a motor vehicle before 28 January 2021, it's worth checking if you've been affected. 

A word cloud image showing examples of firms who had discretionary commission arrangements in place, including Barclays Partner Finance, BMW Finance, Mercedes Benz Financial Services, Alphera, Blackhorse and Santander Car Finance, though many other providers also used this commission model.

Firms that've "never had discretionary commission arrangements"...

A number of firms have told us they never used DCAs so they're not covered by the scope of the investigation. We can't independently verify this, but it'd seem unlikely that regulated firms would make such a blanket statement unless it was true (and if it's not true, we'll formally complain to the FCA about misleading info). 

So if your car finance was with any of these firms, it's probably not worth making a claim. The current list is...

  • Admiral
  • Advantage Finance
  • Autolend
  • Auto Money
  • Billing Finance
  • Burnley Savings & Loans
  • Car Loan Centre
  • Carmoola
  • First Response Finance
  • Glenside Finance
  • Guardian Finance
  • Lendable
  • Mallard Finance
  • MoneyBarn
  • Oodle Car Finance
  • Oplo
  • Premium Plan
  • RateSetter
  • Retail Money Market
  • Specialist Motor Finance
  • Tandem
  • Vehicle Credit
  • 1st Stop Finance

We will add more firms to this list if we hear of more that didn't have these types of agreements.

Find who to complain to: even if you don't have details

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Your complaint should be made to the lender that provided the car finance. This is the firm you actually paid each month – not the broker/car dealer. 

Check any agreement documentation you have and collect as much information as possible about your car finance agreements (and keep them somewhere safe for future), then head to our car finance complaint tool below. Or a few firms have launched their own enquiry forms you can use.

  • Don't know the details? Check your credit report (see how to check for free). If your agreement has been active in the past six years, it should be listed on there. You can also check any old bank statements if you have them.

    If you’ve found the firm’s name, but don’t know the finance agreement details, give it a call and ask it to provide them. Though be aware, firms only need to keep information on finance agreements for six years after the agreement ends.

    If your agreement's older, it's still worth asking as different firms may have different attitudes. But if it can’t help, this may all boil down to whether you’ve found your paperwork. Similar was true in past reclaims, such as PPI and bank charges reclaiming.

    If you really can't remember the finance provider, and you've no paperwork, submit a complaint to the dealership where you bought the car. It'll either deal with it, or forward it to the correct lender. Add in as many details as you can about when you bought the car, its registration, plus your name, date of birth and address at the time. 

  • My car finance provider is no longer trading. If the provider’s been dissolved you won't be able to make a claim. If it’s in administration or in the process of liquidation, you can complain to the administrator (you’ll find it on the FCA register). If your complaint's later upheld, you'd likely become a creditor of the finance provider, but you may only get pennies in the pound back (if anything).

    This is one of the cases where it may be worth complaining to the broker (the firm that organised your car finance  this could be the car dealer) instead. We've been told it may be possible to, though it's likely there won't be full information until the FCA reports. 

  • My car dealer or broker has gone bust. It makes no difference, the responsibility is with your car finance provider, and it should handle your complaint. 

THE TOOL: Free car finance discretionary commission tool & template letters

There's no need to use a claims management firm to do this, as it would take a cut of any payout you may get. To make it easier to do yourself, we've built a tool. All you have to do is answer a few questions on the details of your car finance, then it'll build an email drafted by Martin (with feedback from lawyers and regulators) for you. This is designed to do two things in one...

1. Ask whether your car finance included a discretionary commission arrangement...
2. ...and if it did, lodge a time-stamped complaint

We believe our 2-for-1 strategy is efficient and should work. A couple of big finance firms have given us what seem to be quiet nods over it. The FCA has also told us it'd expect lenders to reply to an info request, but it's uncharted waters – so it's untested. The risk is some firms may automatically count it as a complaint and put it on pause without providing the information.

The wording strongly aims to avoid that, but if it happens, while frustrating, your complaint is still logged which is what counts. If you want to though, feel free to take our draft and rewrite it into two letters, then send the complaint part once your car finance provider has replied with the information you've requested about discretionary commission arrangements.
 
Of course there may be unknown downsides too, as this is completely new, though we hope not. 

Important! A few have reported struggling to input dates. On a computer you can enter dates manually. On a mobile, your phone's date selector will pop up. Click on the year (Android) or month (iPhone), then you can scroll through the years, then select month and day. You DON'T need to scroll month by month.

This template letter is for personal use only. Any other use, without the prior written approval of MoneySavingExpert, is strictly prohibited.

Generally, these things are best done in writing, but if that's too difficult for whatever reason, you can just call, but ask that it's noted down as a formal complaint and request written confirmation. 

Complained using our tool: what happens next?

This is unchartered territory, so we're monitoring how firms respond. Our provisional thoughts so far are: 

  • No reply yet. The number of emails sent to car finance providers since we launched our tool has been unprecedented. Many firms simply weren't prepared. However, many of the large firms have assured that they will be able to acknowledge response of your email within the 28 days. So, if you haven't had an acknowledgement yet, don't be too concerned, they're likely just swamped. 

  • Told: 'You had a Discretionary Commission Arrangement (DCA) and we've logged your complaint'. Great, you're potentially in line for a payout if the FCA rules for redress in September. As your complaint is logged, you've done what's needed for now. Unless the firm requests any further information, it's just a wait until the FCA finishes it's investigation in September 2024.

  • Told: 'You didn't have a DCA'You weren't overcharged, so this is good. If the lender tells you that you didn't have a DCA on your contract there's no point pursuing the claim further (however, this doesn't mean you weren't mis-sold car finance in other ways though). 

  • Told: 'You had a DCA but...' then a fob off. For example, you get a version of 'we don't think we've done anything wrong' and/or 'we've rejected your complaint, but you can go to the Ombudsman'. This tactic was long a part of the bank charges and PPI reclaim 'dance', designed to put people off, and a few firms may be trying similar here.

    Our main thought is 'don't worry', as your provider's confirmed you've had a DCA and has logged your complaint (it must have done to be able to close it). So, arguably, you've done all you need to until the FCA reports in September.

    The finance company's letter will say you can go to the Financial Ombudsman (and you can), but right now we think it's safest to hold fire on that until the FCA reports. However, this is an evolving situation, so we'll be firming up our tactics on this in the next few weeks (there's no harm in delaying for now).

  • Told: 'We can't find your info'This is a trickier one. The FCA says firms should make serious endeavours, yet in truth it depends how long ago it was you took out the finance. If your car finance was active within the last six years, it should have details. If it was longer ago it could become harder, but it should try. The more details you can provide, the better. 

How much will I be repaid if I was overcharged?

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Although the FCA banned discretionary commission arrangements in January 2021, the Financial Ombudsman Service has received more than 8,000 complaints (and that's before we launched this guide, which is likely to see numbers explode). 

It has sided with motorists who were mis-sold car finance in two key discretionary commission cases – one against Black Horse (part of Lloyds Banking Group), the other against Barclays Partner Finance. In both, the consumer was repaid the difference between the interest rate charged and the lowest available rate at the time.

Here's one of the examples, though I've simplified it so it's easier to understand. This gives you the gist of what the borrower got back:

A Blackhorse borrower bought a £7,619 car with a 100% loan and paid 5.5% interest (£2,096 over five years), when the cheapest rate available was 2.49%. The Ombudsman ordered Blackhorse to repay the £1,147 difference in commission, plus interest.

The interest rates above are actually flat rates of interest not APRs, a trick car dealers used to makes rates look cheaper – actually it was a 10.5% APR they were actually charged.

The FCA's own stats suggest that, on average, car buyers paid £1,100 more interest on a typical £10,000 four-year car finance deal when there was a discretionary commission arrangement. So, obviously, the bigger the financing, the more you were charged, the more you may be due back. 

The FCA hasn't set out anything on redress, so there's no clue yet how much you could get back. It could decide all the interest should be repaid, or only a fixed percentage above a fair amount – for now, we don't know – so the Ombudsman ruling is the best guidance. 

What's likely to happen next?

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Not much until the FCA finishes its investigation on 25 Sept 2024 (though that may be extended)

If the FCA finds that there's been a widespread issue with the way discretionary commission arrangements were applied to car finance agreements before 2021, it's said it will "identify how best to make sure people who are owed compensation receive an appropriate settlement in an orderly, consistent and efficient way".

The very best outcome for consumers would be that it simply orders firms to pay out to everyone whose car finance had a discretionary commission arrangement and weren't told upfront. Yet we’ve only ever seen that happen on a couple of smaller mis-selling cases by individual companies who’ve made a voluntary agreement to do this as part of a settlement.

Looking at past redress schemes, I think the most likely outcome will be that the FCA comes up with a PPI type solution, meaning it sets out strict redress measures and payments, but only for those who have (or do) complained within a time limit. I also hope it also considers special provisions to help vulnerable consumers who may struggle to make a complaint.

It should also ensure if a claim is rejected unfairly, you can then take it to the Financial Ombudsman.

All car finance mis-selling updates will go in the free MSE weekly email, do ensure you get that to keep up to date.

Complaint already in progress?

The FCA's intervention came on the back of a rising number of complaints (many driven by claims firms and guides like our existing car finance reclaiming guide). So these discretionary commission agreement complaints aren't a new type of reclaim, but they have changed things.

If you've already submitted a commission-related claim to your car finance provider, what happens next depends on when you complained...

  • If you complained on or after 17 November 2023 your complaint can be paused until the FCA finishes its investigation, currently scheduled to be 25 September 2024.

  • If you complained on or before 16 November 2023 your provider is expected to respond as normal. 

If you made your complaint through a claims-management company

Contact it about what it is doing with your complaint. The likelihood is your agreement with it means even if you now follow this up yourself, you will still owe it a cut of any successful reclaim.
 

If you made the complaint yourself

If you complained before the cut-off, the process should continue as normal. 
 
Remember if you are rejected, you always have a right to go to the free Financial Ombudsman Service – this is crucial, as many cases that go to it after firms reject them are upheld. So, don't be put off by the lender saying a legalese version of "you're having a laugh, you've got not case" – as that's simply a step in the dance. 
 
Complaints to the Ombudsman must usually be within six months of getting a final response from your provider. However, as part of its investigation, the FCA has extended this to 15 months for these cases if you were / are sent a final response between 12 July 2023 and 20 November 2024, so you still have time. 
 
Complaints that have already been escalated to the Ombudsman or to the courts, but haven't yet been decided upon, can continue to be dealt with as normal. 
 
If your complaint has been dealt with by the Ombudsman, then you won't be able to resubmit your complaint to it based on the FCA's investigation outcome - unless the FCA specifically says you can. If not, you can still take your case to the courts (in which case, unless you're very legally, savvy most will need to use a claims firm – best to find one with its own solicitors like Bott & Co, who we've had positive feedback on around flight delay reclaims). 
 
If your complaint has already been dealt with in the courts, then the outcome of the FCA's investigation won't influence the court's final decision. 

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