A company overpaid me £8k three years ago – can I keep it?

‘A company overpaid me £8k three years ago – can I keep it?’

Moral Money: a careless firm duplicated our reader’s funds after holding their capital

Dear Moral Money, 

A company, which I won’t name, has made my life a complete financial nightmare and misery for three years. I have struggled to pay bills and have avoided penury by the skin of my teeth. 

They held my capital and ignored my pleas to release it. I had no income and was totally dependent on a small amount of savings, not held by them. 

I eventually managed to complete a formal request to have funds transferred to my external bank account. This should have been processed in three days, but it took them 14 days. Due to a complicated mix up and incompetency on their behalf, they duplicated the payment, which was a substantial sum. 

I was looking forward to hearing from them and I would have returned the money eventually, if they’d asked for it. I was determined not to inform them of their mistake because of the upset, stress, worry, frustration, etc, that they uncaringly caused me over the long sustained period of time involved.

The question is: am I legally obliged to tell them? 

They have never been in touch, and this is the third anniversary of their mistake. Incidentally, their attitude remained unchanged, continuing to be obstructive, rude and unhelpful, even after the mistake. 

The company still exists and I’m still linked to them, though the department that I dealt with has been closed and ceased trading. I was considering donating the amount to charity. 

The sum was £8,000. I don’t want what isn’t mine. I’m sure that the vast majority of people would say “say nothing”.

– Anon

Dear reader,

I can feel how cross you are about the way you have been treated by this company. There is nothing worse than companies that make mistakes and then make it worse with poor attitude and compounding incompetence until the customers they are supposed to serve are ready to explode with frustration.   

It does strike me that if they had ever acknowledged your frustrating experience and apologised for their part in it, they would probably have £8,000 more in their bank than they currently have.

Instead, they have wielded their power and caused you problems, so why should you do them the favour of pointing out yet another mistake on their part, especially as this time their incompetence worked in your interest? 

Well, unfortunately, the answer is because it would be illegal if you didn’t. We spoke to The Telegraph’s consumer law columnist to be sure of the legal position here, and Gary Rycroft said: “Simply put, it’s unlawful to retain money when he’s made an admission it’s not his”. 

Apparently, there have been cases in the past where people didn’t realise the mistake and courts have excused people from having to pay it back, but once you admit you are aware of the mistake the law requires you to return the money to the rightful owner.  

Given that the law doesn’t consider the money yours, you don’t have the right to donate it to charity either. Even though a charity might be much more deserving, it is not yours to give.

Mr Rycroft did come up with a good suggestion, though: “Contact the company, tell them the whole story of what’s happened – including the debacle of being paid the money twice – and tell them you will return the money, but also tell them you’d like them to donate the money to charity for you, as compensation for the disruption.” 

I think you will also benefit from getting this matter squared away. It has been three years since they originally annoyed you and their behaviour is still causing you distress or you wouldn’t have taken the trouble to write to us. You deserve to be free of this angst. They are still under your skin and irritating you. 

It’s time to get the ointment out and soothe this sore. I remind myself that “forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves” when I find I am riled up and resentful about something.

The only way I can stop resentments from continuing to spoil my life is when I remember that it does me more damage to have them than it does the other party. In your case, this bully of a company has no idea that you spend regular amounts of time thinking badly about them.

From your description, it is clear that they don’t know how to care about customers. It isn’t bothering them, only you. They don’t even realise you have got some of their money, but it is burning a hole in your bank account.

As Mr Rycroft suggests, use your current advantage to show them what decent people do and ask them to show some compassion.

I don’t know which corporation you are referring to but I would also encourage you to manage your expectations as some of these faceless organisations simply don’t know what decent behaviour looks like. 

You, on the other hand, have wasted a lot of energy on them and need to be free of this debacle. I would encourage you to get it done and enjoy the rest of your life without them living under your skin – you deserve that.

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