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17th July 2014

Worry about the print, not just the small print!


17th July 2014

Worry about the print, not just the small print!

Harry Moore was taken to court over spiralling credit card debts which meant he faced losing his home and business. The case has clear lessons for anyone who deals with consumers in their day to day business.

Mr Moore, aged 43, accrued a balance of more than £13,000 on an MBNA credit card, and failed to meet repayments. MBNA then sought to recover the debt and instructed a debt recovery agency, Hillesden Securities, which in November 2013 took him to court.

The debt was clearly owing but the case was thrown out because the original credit agreement signed by Mr Moore was “impossible to read”. The agreement had been photocopied so many times that the ink was smudged and words merged together. Paul Tilley, representing Mr Moore, said in parts of the document the word “financial” read as “mandel”. He said: “The text was so close, with almost no spacing between sentences. We could barely read it out in court. More importantly, it’s not about what the lawyer can read but what the consumer can read so they understand their obligations.”

Neither MBNA nor Mr Moore had an original copy of the agreement, dating back to when the card was first taken out. And so, MBNA provided a “reconstituted” version of the document to Hillesden, based on copies. “We have provided this information on many other occasions, to the same standard, without issue,” an MBNA spokesman said.

However, during the trial at Oxford County Court the judge, Charles Harris, ordered Hillesden Securities to produce documentation that was more easily legible. It failed to do so. The problem was illustrated when Judge Harris read out Mr Moore’s address incorrectly. (The case has also highlighted the fact that illegible documentation is a problem right across the credit industry.)

Mr Moore’s case was thrown out because Hillesden failed to provide legible documents. The judge said “He should have been sent a readable copy of the agreement, as required by section 78 of the Consumer Credit Act (1974). The debt still stands. The credit agreement must contain all the terms and conditions of the original agreement, information about any changes made to the agreement, parties name and address and the rate of interest.”

In short, there is nothing to be gained by including jargon, small print or illegible words. Its surely better for all parties that documents are clear and are not open to substantive interpretation.

We are not suggesting that credit companies should review every past agreement–that would be too onerous–but if you are in the throws of or contemplating legal proceedings it is as well to check not just as to legibility but also that you have the original document.  If either is in doubt then you will need to consider carefully what further steps you can reasonably take to locate the documents but clearly the message from this case is that the courts will look askance where they have to read documents that are illegible or cannot be properly interpreted.


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