On 23 October 2003 I attended a meeting at HFC’s head office in Winkfield. Here is my diary entry for the meeting:
I attended with the senior partner of Weightmans, Ian Evans. We wished to discuss the future of the John Lewis accounts which we handled.
Also at the meeting was the bank’s solicitor Duncan Hamilton. (He has since been sacked by HSBC). His business card, given to me at the meeting:
Duncan Hamilton stated that we could continue to act for John Lewis provided we acted on the same contractual terms as their existing solicitors, Restons in Warrington. I asked what those terms were and when he explained them to me I informed him that such an arrangement was unlawful as it breached the solicitors code of practice because it allowed for forbidden contingency fees.
The contract allowed for the solicitors to add 16.4% (14% plus VAT at 17.5%) to debts when they are referred to them for collection. Here is my contemporaneous handwritten note of the contract terms ( I believe this was taken at an earlier meeting on 18 September with the people mentioned, and it refers at the bottom to “Duncan Hamilton Wingfied” [sic[):
This added percentage is to cover their fees (the bank pays nothing). On a debt of £10,000 the solicitors will write to the debtor claiming £11,640. If the bank agrees to accept £5,820 in full settlement of that debt the solicitors will keep £820 as their fee. The solicitors keep 16.4% of all sums recovered. If they recovered nothing they weren’t paid. This is illegal. It can be seen from this note that we were promised an average of 400 cases per month of HFC and John Lewis (John Lewis Financial Services [HSBC]) per month. On an average collection charge of £1,500 this equals £7,200,000 a year in illegal charges. Restons were promised the same level of cases.