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Lenders invoke small print to big up their rates

[16 Dec 2013] Lenders have been told they could be acting illegally if they invoke clauses in the small print of their contracts with private consumers that allow them to raise tracker-style mortgage interest rates supposedly tied to the Bank of England base rate. Now that the base rate is 0.5%, some lenders are losing money. Although consumers are supposed to read the contracts they sign, they would be unlikely to understand the effect of such clauses, which tend not to be highlighted in the summary information they get.

The Bank of Ireland, which doubled interest bills for 13,500 borrowers in March, and the West Bromwich, which has recently raised its rates by two percentage points, have led the way. Both used contract clauses that gave them free rein to effectively rewrite any terms they didn’t like any more.

Arguably this is unfair and could be struck down by a court – partly, perhaps, because it makes a tracker loan no different from a variable-rate loan. The Financial Ombudsman Services is examining several complaints from borrowers. Now the Financial Conduct Authority has hinted it may make such get-out clauses unlawful, promising a discussion paper about the matter early in the new year.


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