No deal for HBOS over loss of business reputation?
Stuart Benzie considers whether a claim for loss of reputation can result in a payment of damages before the court
As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.’ This seems particularly relevant in light of Noel Edmonds’ demands for compensation from Lloyds Banking Group following the HBOS fraud scandal.
Edmonds is not only a well-known television presenter, but he is also a successful businessman. However, his media business, Unique Group, became one of a number of victims of a fraud perpetrated by employees of the HBOS Reading branch and a corporate turnaround company called Quayside Corporate Services between 2002 and 2007.
Lloyds Banking Group (the owner of HBOS) has now assured the 64 victims that they will be compensated by the end of June and has set aside £100m for that purpose. So far, so good – or maybe not. Edmonds alone values his claim for significant economic losses and damage to his reputation at £73m, not leaving a lot for the remaining 63 victims.
Lloyds has stated that it is conducting a customer review prior to making offers of compensation. For the victims of the earlier interest rate swap mis-selling scandal, the term ‘customer review’ may not generate happy memories. The process allowed Lloyds (and other banks) to assess the compensation due to the victims of that scandal with the oversight of an independent reviewer.
The result was a lot of disappointed customers. The offers of compensation were often low and generally less than the customers believed they had lost. However, faced with the choice between accepting a disappointing compensation offer or litigating against a major bank, many opted for the former.
Given the figures advanced by Lloyds and the relative rarity of claims for loss of reputation (sometimes referred to as ‘stigma damages’), it seems unlikely that Lloyds has any intention of paying significant compensation for the loss of Edmonds’ business reputation. Consequently, the question is: can a claim for loss of reputation result in a payment of damages before the courts?
In Wilson v United Counties Bank  1 AC 102, a bankrupt customer brought a successful action for breach of contract against a bank and the House of Lords unanimously upheld recovery of damages for consequential loss of personal reputation. As such, it appears that where damage to reputation, of a sort that would not give a right to recovery in defamation, has been caused by a breach of contract, damages for that breach should be recoverable.
Contractual claims for loss of reputation are rare, but – as a matter of principle – Edmonds may well have grounds to bring a claim. However, proving actual financial loss can be a huge obstacle to a successful claim of this sort. In the first instance, the difficulties with a claim of this nature may make it less likely that Lloyds will be willing to provide compensation for damage to reputation, so the question is whether Edmonds wants to take the risk of litigation against one of the UK’s largest financial institutions. Deal or no deal?
Stuart Benzie is a barrister at 2 Temple Gardens