'Check your bank statements'
OBS statistics show that the office closed a total of 5 996 cases this year. Of these, 2 356 were related to allegations of maladministration by banks. This makes up a significant 39 percent of all complaints, says Steyn.
The types of complaints included allegations of accounts settled and disputes around fees and charges. In many of these cases, the OBS found that there had been maladministration by banks. The office made appropriate recommendations in line with the merits of each matter.
The ombudsman is often in the best position to identify and investigate maladministration by banks as and when it occurs, but it says customers can assist by being vigilant and querying their statements and balances timeously.
According to the ombudsman, bank customers must take the time to go through their account statements. It is not impossible that the balance, repayment or outstanding loan period could be incorrect.
“It is natural to trust that bank statements are always correct and that errors are unlikely. However, the OBS receives complaints relating to maladministration daily,” Steyn says.
The term “maladministration” refers to a range of issues that could go wrong. For example, the unilateral changing of the agreed contractual repayment term, a decrease or increase in the agreed monthly instalment or the failure to appropriately adjust the instalment and/or interest rate. Such actions could result in the term of the agreement being extended or an incorrect balance resulting in customers having to pay more than what was agreed on.
The OBS will investigate all matters and consider the facts of each dispute, as well as what is “fair” under the circumstances. The maladministration may be due to human error or a system error. If banking maladministration is established, the OBS has the power to direct the bank to rectify the situation for the customer. In addition, the OBS may direct that the bank offers a nominal award for distress and inconvenience.
Steyn says that bank customers who suspect maladministration of their accounts, or who feel that their debts owed to the bank are not decreasing as they should be, need to raise their concerns directly with their banks. If they are still not satisfied, they are urged to lodge a complaint with the OBS for an independent investigation.
Customers are urged to be vigilant. "It's important to keep signed records of agreements and to report incorrect entries or balances on accounts immediately to their banks,” she says.