Follow the form and reap the rewards

Getting good returns from your savings is about more than brilliant investment insights; it's also about getting the administrative nitty- gritty right.

Paperwork challenge number one this weekend is for shareholders in Railtrack, the privatised rail infrastructure company. If you haven't paid the second/final instalment on your shares - due by Thursday (29 May) - then get your skates on. Even if you don't want to keep the shares any longer you should pay the instalment. Shareholders who don't pay up will have their partly-paid shares sold automatically - for a poor price.

This week is also the deadline for Alliance & Leicester shareholders to transfer their windfall shares into a tax-free PEP at no charge and without using up any of this year's normal PEP allowances. Pepping windfall shares is not a good idea in every case - particularly given the charges and restrictions on some plans. But for many people a carefully chosen PEP is worthwhile.

Unit trust company Save & Prosper last week launched what it claims is the "best windfall PEP deal around", but my choice is Fidelity. Fidelity will make no charge at all for holding any number of windfall shares until April 1999 and no charge beyond then if you make any further investment with the company. The company has a good value stockmarket index-tracking PEP that would make a good choice for this further investment (tel: 0800- 41 41 71).

Soon-to-be (2 June) shareholders in the Halifax should by now have sent back a form indicating whether they want a share certificate and whether they want to sell straight away (yes, and no, are the best answers for most people). Halifax has been criticised for making it difficult for people who want to keep their shares to get a certificate. But if you opted for the Shareholder Account alternative and are now having doubts, don't despair: Halifax says that by having your shares held in this account you will keep the option of selling for free for the first 10 days of the shares trading; and if you subsequently want to get a certificate to put the shares in another company's PEP (for most people a better option than the Halifax PEP) it should be able to provide this certificate for free in time for the 42-day deadline. To get the certificate, fill in the form which will come with details of your Shareholder Account holding.

Finally, soon-to-be (16 June) shareholders in Norwich Union have also been sent a form asking whether they want a share certificate and whether they want to buy more shares at a discounted price. Buying more shares is worth considering - with the important caveats that you have the money, are prepared to have it tied up for a while and aren't going to have your life's savings in this one company's shares. That said, the deadline for returning your application form is not until 10 June - so I will look at the offer in more detail next weekend. If you don't want to buy any more shares and want to guarantee getting your certificate in time for the start of dealings on 16 June, you should return your form by 5 June.

SO NOW we know why insurance and other financial companies take so long to answer the phone: Standard Life, in Edinburgh, says customers are unsettled if calls are answered too quickly - so in the interests of service it lets phones ring a little longer. Silly of me to think they're just inefficient (or don't want to pay claims).