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Laxmi Bhardarkar, an 81-year-old retired schoolteacher from Mumbai, feared phone calls till recently. It wasn't suprising considering that she had received nearly 1,500 threatening, abusive calls for over two months. Bhardarkar's fault? Her son had pending dues on his credit card, a transaction he had not even carried out.
He had sent a letter to the bank, pointing out the error and refusing to pay.
After this, he had to go abroad for an official assignment, and while he was away, the bank appointed recovery agents, who started harassing his mother. The ordeal ended when the family contacted the police.
The Bhardarkar family isn't alone in its predicament, nor is it the only grievance against banks. In 2011-12, 48,180 complaints were filed against public-sector banks alone.
Here are the steps you need to take to redress your grievance.
Step 1: Complain to your bank
According to Adhil Shetty, CEO, Bankbazaar.com, nearly all banks have a grievance cell.
“So a customer can visit the bank and meet the officials to sort out the issue,” he says. Banks have a dedicated toll-free customer care number, which you can use to lodge your grievance and get a complaint ID. “You can also register a complaint on the bank's website,” he adds.
KS Harikumar, head, operations, Federal Bank, explains that e-mails can also be sent to the service quality department in public-sector banks.
“This is an exclusive unit dealing with customer grievances and headed by an executive of the rank of general manager. The complaints posted directly on the bank's website are also resolved by this department,” he says.
Harikumar adds that some banks have begun or are in the process of starting a real-time monitoring system for the complaints received centrally through the customer relationship management (CRM), which is set up in all branches.
Once the complaint is lodged, the customer needs to wait for 30 days for the bank to offer a solution or give a suitable reply.
Step 2: Approach the banking ombudsman
If your bank does not address your complaint within a month, you can approach the banking ombudsman.
This is a senior official appointed by the Reserve Bank of India to redress customer complaints against deficiency in banking services, as per its scheme introduced in 1995. All scheduled commercial banks, regional rural banks and scheduled primary cooperative banks are covered under the scheme.
So far, there are 15 ombudsmen, whose offices are located mostly in state capitals. Their addresses and contact details are available on the RBI website.
The ombudsman tries to effect a legally binding settlement between both the parties within a month.
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However, if a settlement is not possible, it will pass an award after allowing both the parties to present their cases to him.
When the scheme was introduced, it addressed complaints such as non-payment or delayed payment of cheques and drafts, and services such as remittances.
However, in the ensuing years, the scope has widened to include grievances related to plastic money, unfair banking practices, levying of service charges without prior intimation, transactions on the Internet banking platform, and the like. Deficiency in service with respect to loans and advances, say, delays in sanctioning/disbursing loans and non-acceptance of loan applications without a valid explanation, are also valid grounds for complaint.
For a complete list of the types of complaints you can take up under this scheme, visit rbi.org.in/scripts/FAQView.aspx?Id=24.
Lodging a complaint
You have to file the complaint at the office of the ombudsman under whose jurisdiction your bank branch is located. The grievances relating to credit cards and other types of services with centralised operations are to be filed with the ombudsman in whose territorial jurisdiction the billing address of the customer is located.
You can put it down on a plain paper, send an e-mail, or fill the complaint form on the RBI website.
There are no charges for filing a complaint. Grounds for rejection
The ombudsman can reject a customer's complaint if he has not approached his bank for grievance redressal first, or if the subject is pending for disposal, or has already been dealt with at any other forum, such as a court of law or consumer court.
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Also, the complaint will not be considered if more than one year has passed since the customer has heard from the bank, or 13 months since the date of representation to the bank. Compensation limit
The scheme caps the amount of compensation that can be doled out to Rs 10 lakh or actual loss suffered, whichever is lower.
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The ombudsman may choose to award the compensation, not exceeding Rs 1 lakh, to the complainant for mental agony and harassment. However, so far, this has been limited to complaints regarding credit card operations.
If you are not happy with the settlement offered by the ombudsman, you can file an appeal before the appellate authority within 30 days.
The appellate authority in this case is the deputy governor of the RBI. Alternatively, you can approach consumer redressal forums, which take up bank-related complaints, or even the courts.