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Grieving mother faces shock £24,000 John Lewis card bill | Money

My 80-year-old mother has received an inexplicable credit card bill for nearly £24,000. She acquired a John Lewis Partnership card in 2016 with a credit limit of £3,000. In 2017 she set up a direct debit to pay the bills and received monthly statements to show the balance was cleared. In August 2019 her card was suspended. John Lewis investigated, confirmed that it was an error and paid her £30 by way of apology.

The following month’s statement showed she had settled her bill and the balance was zero. But then, in October, around the time her long-term partner died, her card was declined and she found it had been suspended again. John Lewis Financial Services said that she owed £23,752.60!

The November statement confirmed this sum, described as “other transactions”, with no explanation. Through contact with the Financial Ombudsman it has offered a 5% discount on the debt and suspended interest payments and any impact on her credit rating.

She was too embarrassed to tell her family at first, as she felt it was her fault until Christmas week, when she broke down and revealed what had happened. I feel she has been treated appallingly with no explanation as to how the debt was accrued so suddenly with a £3,000 limit in place.

KM, Wolverhampton

The John Lewis card has been beset by difficulties since 2016, after three different IT upgrades created a series of problems – preventing payments and locking customers out of their accounts among them.

Your mother’s ordeal is in a class of its own, however, and the explanation that I wrested from John Lewis is alarming. It claims that due to an “administrative error”, when her direct debit was processed to pay off her bill, payments were taken from an unspecified third party’s account and applied to your mother’s credit card balance. So the debt was being paid off – by a hapless stranger.

When this mistake was discovered in September, two years of those payments were returned to the third party, leaving your mother – without any warning – with her entire spending bill as nothing had, unbeknown to her, been paid off.

This is an astounding blunder and a baffling one. It remains unclear how the stranger’s account came to be linked to your mother’s, and whether they had access to your mother’s account details.

John Lewis is also unable to explain why the mistake was not discovered when her card was first suspended, and why she was not contacted with an explanatory letter and an affordable repayment plan. The company has belatedly agreed to write off the whole debt in recognition that her experience “fell well below our usual high standards”.

The gravity of the mistake and John Lewis’s subsequent attitude is deeply concerning.

If you need help email Anna Tims at [email protected] or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions

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