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Consumer Rights: Help! The banks won't take this £3,500 back

Consumer Rights: Help! The banks won't take this £3,500 back

What to do if you find mystery money in your account / How to check if your new pension performs poorly / Dealing with a disappearing builder

By Liz Barclay


Sunday, 17 May 2009
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JASON ALDEN

Too generous by far: If you have received an overpayment, you must give it back, but be sure to document every step

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My sister-in-law discovered last summer that £3,500 had been mysteriously deposited into her NatWest current account. She wasn't expecting any such deposit, and when she contacted the bank from which it had been paid, Abbey, they said it was from an off-shore account but could say no more. Since then, she's been trying to get either Abbey or NatWest to take the money out of her account, but neither wants anything to do with it. Advice please?

MB, Stockport


No wonder the banks are in such a state when they can give away £3,500 of one customer's money to another and claim to know nothing about it. But you are right in assuming that your sister-in-law can't just keep it, and in trying to put matters right. John Eaton, the financial services director at the law firm Lupton Fawcett, in Leeds, says: "Assuming that Abbey quoted the actual number of your sister-in-law's current account when sending the funds to her bank, then it is Abbey that has made the mistake rather than NatWest. NatWest has simply done what it was supposed to do and credited her account with funds designated for that account. If you're sure it isn't your sister-in-law's money, the best practical solution is to arrange for it to be returned to the sender, and leave the sender to refund it to the rightful owner. But before you do anything, check carefully that it isn't her money. Could it have come from some long-forgotten savings or insurance policy that was due to mature, for example? If not, write a cheque from the current account to Abbey, and send it to them at head office with a covering letter explaining that they have paid this amount into the wrong account and you are therefore returning it to them, so that they can put it back into the right account. Keep copies of all correspondence with both banks in case at a later date they realise how the mistake was made and come back to you demanding it. If you post the cheque get proof of posting and make sure it has to be signed for at the other end. Somewhere out there is someone wondering where their £3,500 has gone.

***

I had a personal pension with Norwich Union with a transfer value of £139,621 in 2008. My financial adviser said I would be better off transferring to Scottish Life, for a number of reasons. I duly transferred the pension pot to them on a "balanced medium term policy". I have just received my 2009 statement and I have lost a massive £31,962 in the past 12 months. My financial adviser said this was simply because of the stock-market turmoil. I do not believe that such a large loss is simply down to this, but wrong advice and mismanagement might be more applicable. What are your thoughts?

GM, London

I'm not sure I can give you much hope. It's difficult to say whether or not the value of your pension pot has decreased by £31,962 because of wrong advice and mismanagement or because of the fall in the value of the stock market. But if you've been reading the financial press you will have seen that the value of stocks has fallen by roughly 25 per cent, despite a recent modest recovery and, as a result, the value of pensions has fallen by a similar amount. It's proving really tough for many people in your position. However, if you feel that you have been wrongly advised, the first step is to write down all the points that are causing you concern and put them to the adviser who gave you the recommendations, and ask for a response. According to Andrew Wilkins, a senior pension adviser at advisers Philip T English in Banbury, in recommending a transfer from Norwich Union to Scottish Life, your financial adviser should have provided the following details:

What are the charges under Norwich Union, and how do they compare with those made by Scottish Life?

Were there any transfer penalties imposed by Norwich Union, and, if so, what?

What fund (or funds) was your money invested in with Norwich Union and how risky or otherwise were these?

If your risk assessment hasn't changed, then does the Scottish Life policy adequately reflect your risk approach and also your objectives?

You should have been provided with illustrations of retirement benefits from both Norwich Union on your existing policy and from Scottish Life on the new policy. These would have demonstrated the differences brought about by any penalty and by the different charging structures – given the same investment growth assumptions.

Out of all this should have come clear reasons why the transfer was being made.

If, thinking back, you feel that none of these points were adequately explained or explored, write to your original adviser and complain. If you feel the response you get isn't adequate, get a second opinion from another authorised adviser. If you feel that you have a legitimate complaint against your adviser, you must give that firm a chance to respond in writing.

If you are still dissatisfied you can take your case to the Financial Ombudsman at www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk.

***

I recently employed a builder to put a new roof on my house. He demanded payment in full and I paid him – foolishly as it turns out – because he hasn't finished the job. I've written to him but got nowhere. This is a lot of money. What should I do next?

JP, Berkshire

Builders need some money to buy materials, but the rule is – pay them in chunks when the materials are required and the rest only when the work has been completed and you're happy that it's all watertight. But it's easy to be wise after the event. Write to your builder again and give him a deadline in which to finish the job – two weeks would be reasonable. Tell him that you intend to get quotes from other builders for finishing the job and that you will choose one of those to do the work for you and expect him to pay back that amount. Say that you will take legal action against him if he doesn't pay up.

In the meantime, talk to your Trading Standards Department. Look at any paperwork you have from your builder. If he's a member of a trade association get in touch with them and ask for help. He may simply have taken on too much work, or he may be in financial difficulties and have used your money on another job. Ultimately, you are entitled to have your roof finished as agreed and if that isn't done, to sue your builder for what it costs you to get the second builder to make good the work. But if your original builder goes bust, he may have nothing to pay you with and taking him to court could be a case of throwing good money after bad. Try every other avenue open to you before going to court.

Trade associations carry out checks on their members so there should be less chance of a member turning out to be a unreliable.

www.moneyagonyaunt.com
This article first appeared in
http://www.independent.co.uk/money/spend-save/consumer-rights-help-the-banks-wont-take-this-1633500-back-1686049.html

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