High Court Upholds Santander Repossession in Landmark CCA Interpretation

Citation: [2024] EWHC 170 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

The High Court case of Santander Consumer (UK) PLC v Meher-Un-Nisa Chaudhry [2024] EWHC 170 (KB) presents a range of issues centered around the repossession of a vehicle under a Conditional Sale Agreement and the interpretation of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (CCA). This article breaks down the case, identifying key facts, legal principles applied, and outcomes, which are instrumental for legal professionals in the UK to comprehend the nuances of consumer credit cases related to the repossession of goods.

Key Facts

Santander Consumer, the respondent, had its vehicle, a Mercedes-Benz E Class, seized by the police while being driven by Ms. Chaudhry’s brother without insurance and a valid license. Ms. Chaudhry, the appellant, claimed that the vehicle was wrongfully repossessed by Santander without a court order, despite her making payments exceeding one-third of the Vehicle’s price. Mr. Recorder Cameron at the initial trial found that Ms. Chaudhry had lied regarding her brother’s possession of the vehicle and was in breach of clauses 4.4 and 4.5 of the Agreement. The Recorder concluded that the Santander repossessed the vehicle not from the appellant but from the Police, thus not breaching Section 90 of the CCA. This case came as an appeal from that order.

The following legal principles were discussed in the judgment:

  1. Recovery of Possession under Section 90 of the CCA: This prohibits a creditor from recovering possession of goods from a debtor without a court order once one-third or more of the goods’ price has been paid and the property remains with the creditor.

  2. Seizure of Goods by the Police: The lawful seizure by police under statutory powers temporarily suspends the debtor’s right to possession without affecting the underlying rights, as established in Costello v Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary [2001] EWCA Civ 381.

  3. Right to Possession: The legal principle distinguishing between legal right and physical possession, as highlighted in Kassam v Chartered Trust PLC [1998] RTR 220, played a significant part in determining the point at which Santander repossessed the vehicle.

  4. Unfair Relationship under Section 140A of the CCA: Addressed the fairness of the creditor’s conduct throughout the agreement’s term, including actions taken during repossession.

  5. Unfair Terms under Section 62(1) of the Consumer Rights Act 2015: The case dealt with the validity of a contractual term allowing the creditor to take vehicles into “safe custody” and whether it could be considered unfair.

  6. Default Notice under Section 87 of the CCA: Explores the necessity of a default notice before a creditor can undertake certain actions, including repossessing goods due to a breach of agreement.

  7. Data Protection Act: This was indirectly touched upon, linking the compliance of data protection laws with the breach of the CCA.

  8. Contracting Out of the CCA: Discusses whether Clause 4.5 of the Agreement, allowing repossession by Santander, could represent an attempt to contract out of statutory protection, prohibited by Section 173(1) of the CCA.

Outcomes

The High Court dismissed the appeal, upholding the Recorder’s decision that Santander did not breach section 90 of the CCA because the vehicle was repossessed from the Police, not the debtor, at a time when the right to possession was suspended due to police seizure. Additionally, the court considered whether the retention of the vehicle following the appellant’s demand for its return amounted to a contravention of section 90 but concluded it did not. The court also rejected the arguments made under the grounds of unfair relationship, unfair terms, the need for a default notice, and the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act, as they either did not independently arise or were not sufficiently meritorious.

Conclusion

The Santander Consumer (UK) PLC v Meher-Un-Nisa Chaudhry judgment is pivotal for its interpretation of ‘recovery of possession’ within the scope of Section 90 of the CCA, particularly following lawful seizure by the police. The court clarified that the creditor’s possession after police release does not equate to the recovery of possession from the debtor. The case further reinforces the importance of discerning between legal possession and physical holding, especially in situations where the possession is interrupted by law enforcement’s statutory powers. It serves as a guiding principle for creditors’ actions in repossession circumstances under regulated hire-purchase and conditional sale agreements.

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