Hope for income plan victims: Judges give go-ahead for compensation claims, but many people will still be out of pocket

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TWO High Court rulings this week cleared the way for more than 100 elderly people to lodge compensation claims for losses on investment-linked home income plans. But some will still be thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Vera Hawkins, of Bromley, Kent, secretary of the Home Income Plan Support Group, expects to be able to claim for losses on the plan she and her husband bought from Aylesbury Associates in 1987.

However, she does not expect she will be compensated for money lost between 1987 and 28 August 1988, the date the Investors Compensation Scheme was formally established.

'We lost a lot of money on our plan between 1987 and 1988,' says Mrs Hawkins. She is not sure exactly how much she has lost in total. Like thousands of other elderly people she and her husband raised a mortgage on their property and invested the money in an investment bond.

These schemes fell apart when the investment bonds failed to grow at the expected rate, leaving investors with mounting mortgage debts.

On the advice of Aylesbury, which is no longer in business, Mr and Mrs Hawkins borrowed pounds 50,000 from Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society, but by 1991 this had swollen to pounds 63,000. They cashed in their Scottish Mutual investment bond and repaid about pounds 15,000 of the mortgage.

'We cannot afford to pay the interest, and the debt is still growing,' Mrs Hawkins says. 'It is probably back to about pounds 53,000 or pounds 54,000 now.'

Before this week's High Court rulings, however, the Hawkins and other pre-1988 investors had been deemed ineligible to claim anything at all from the ICS because of its view that people who invested before 28 August 1988 were excluded by its rules.

Barnett Sampson, London solicitors representing hundreds of home income plan victims, sought a judicial review in the name of two investors, Margaret Weyell, a 69-year-old widow, and John Veniard, 78.

Mrs Weyell signed up with Aylesbury in July 1988 but her pounds 115,575 mortgage was not executed until September. She invested pounds 93,000 through Aylesbury in the same month.

Lord Justice Glidewell and Mr Justice Cresswell ruled that she was eligible for compensation up to the ICS's pounds 48,000 limit because her losses started in September.

Mrs Weyell, who was forced to sell the pounds 160,000 home in West Wickham, Kent, that she mortgaged through Aylesbury, was thrilled at the judges' decision.

'It means I will have comfort until the end of my days,' she said.

Mr Veniard signed up with Aylesbury in 1987, but Aylesbury had reported to him on his investment - originally more than pounds 50,000 - after 28 August 1988, so he could claim for losses incurred from the time of the first report after that date.

The Securities and Investments Board is aware of 150 home income cases that could be affected by these rulings. Each will have to be considered individually.

The rulings could also lead to more generous compensation from the ICS, the main source of investor compensation under the Financial Services Act, for people who have lost money to other investment advisers on schemes unrelated to home income plans.

Antony Gold, of the Manchester solicitors Eversheds Alexander Tatham, is representing investors who have lost money through three firms and so far have been ineligible to claim. He will be considering this week's rulings to see where they stand.

The second court ruling overturned a decision by the ICS to halve compensation payments to the spouses of income plan investors who died before the firm they invested with had been declared formally in default.

Lord Justice Glidewell and Mr Justice Cresswell considered two test cases presented by Barnett Sampson. One involved a a man who was told in April that he would only receive pounds 4,971 from ICS, half the amount that would have been due had his wife not died before Fisher Prew Smith, the firm that they bought their plan from, was declared in default.

Another case involved a widow who was originally offered more than pounds 22,000 by ICS but was later told this was to be halved.

Richard Barnett, of Barnett Sampson described the ICS's action as hard-faced.

His firm's battles with the ICS are not over yet. Further court action is pending over the scheme's refusal to compensate for capital drawn out of home income plans. Barnett Sampson argues that many investors would not have taken money out if they had not thought it was safe.

(Photograph omitted)

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