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My Worst Deal, BBC1, available on iPlayer

You know a programme entitled My Worst Deal about loan sharks, repossessions and bust lender Northern Rock is going to contain some disturbing tales.

And so it does – laying bare a lending industry focussed on trickery and subtle deceits to make money.

The show, part of a series on BBC 1, reveals there are banks and second charge lenders that barely give the minimum help required to customers.

After being sanctioned by the Financial Ombudsman Service and even the courts, some banks continue campaigns of harassment and intimidation.

The show begins with a harrowing story about a man who lost his job, wife and home, and then a bank piled on the misery by asking for debt repayments.

Alan left the army so he could see more of his family but was forced to take a job with a lower salary.

He then separated from his wife. The combination of factors meant he went into mortgage arrears leading to his home being repossessed in March 2011 by Northern Rock.

The sale of his repossessed home, which he bought for £112,000, raised just £67,500. On top of the £20,000 extra secured debt and a mortgage worth more than the house, he still owed £102,000. He moved in with his brother, lived on £30 a month, was forced to sell his dog and even attempted suicide.

Enter debt counsellor Mike Thomas, sent to turn around the poor chap’s fortunes. Thomas explains that Northern Rock sold his house for well under its value and that it was being ridiculous asking for payments within four weeks of a sale. The counsellor is shocked at Alan’s plight and says he must file for bankruptcy because he is in an impossible cycle of debt.

Bizarrely, there is a £700 charge to become bankrupt so Thomas suggests he approach army charities to meet the cost. In an emotional end to Alan’s story he is declared bankrupt and his debts wiped.

The show also highlights cases where people run into difficulty when buying household appliances on store finance. Invariably it costs them more and the show finds that store staff are not always fully open about the repayment schedule and terms and conditions of contracts.

Another example shows a woman, Joan, getting into a cycle of bank charges from HSBC which eventually consumed a third of her wages. It meant she couldn’t meet her mortgage costs and other bills, let alone pay the bank’s overdraft charges. FOS found in Joan’s favour. HSBC offered her £440 to cover bills but then began a campaign of threatening phone calls.

Hounding customers into a spiral of bank charges and the hugely under-valued sale of a repossessed property are two examples of brutal bank behaviour.

The programme offers a terrifying portrait of an industry where it seems customers are merely a means to make more money. Suicide attempts, marriage break-ups and stress-induced illnesses don’t register with the faceless call centre staff paid to hassle those in debt.

My Worst Deal brought home the human cost of unnecessarily aggressive lending policies.

Review by Samuel Dale

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