Money News: Still want to vote on Standard Life? You have to go to Scotland

Standard Life policyholders who have failed to vote for or against demutualisation by post can now do so only by attending its special general meeting this Wednesday.

Last month, the mutual insurer sent ballot papers to 2.4 million eligible members in a bid to garner support for its proposed float on the London Stock Exchange - and gave them until the close of play today to cast their vote by post.

Those who have missed this deadline - but still intend to vote - must do so in person at the meeting to be held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, when the outcome of the ballot will also be revealed.

Half a million policyholders, nearly one in five, have so far failed to register their details and vote, says Standard Life. It cites apathy as one reason, as well as members having changed address without notifying the company. It is not expecting huge numbers to turn up on Wednesday.

Standard Life needs 75 per cent of members to back its proposal to demutualise. If it does go public, each eligible with-profits policyholder - anyone who invested before 31 March 2004 - will get a fixed allocation of 185 shares for their loss of membership, plus a variable allocation that will depend on the value of the policy and when it was taken out.

It is estimated that half the policyholders could get windfalls of between £500 and £1,000.

Those failing to vote will still qualify for their windfall shares.

Next month, a document will be sent out offering discounted shares as well as another chance to "validate" membership - and a share entitlement.

If policyholders fail to come forward by then, their shares will be held by Standard Life for 10 years.

Consumer credit: A million more need debt help

The number of people turning to Citizens Advice with credit problems has doubled over the past eight years, it emerged last week.

Some 1.25 million new cases were dealt with by the debt advice charity in 2005, and of these nearly three quarters, 937,500, related to consumer credit.

People helped by Citizens Advice today owe an average of £13,153 - almost a third more than three years ago, according to the charity's Deeper in Debt report.

"Low income, combined with badly informed and poorly understood financial decisions, is at the root of many clients' debt problems," said David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice. "For many, there is little prospect of their income increasing or their circumstances changing."

The charity wants the Government to introduce "debt relief orders" - new insolvency plans that have been put forward by ministers. Unlike bankruptcy or individual voluntary arrangements, these won't entail court involvement and will be cheaper for individuals to apply for. (Bankruptcy, for example, costs £475 in England and Wales.)

The orders would be for people owing under £15,000 and having less than £50 to spare each month, after meeting all essential spending such as rent and bills.

However, a change in current legislation is needed before the orders can be created.

Most debt charities are struggling to cope with the number of people coming forward with problems.

Low interest rates, coupled with lenders desperate for market share, have helped fuel a consumer credit boom, although rising defaults are now forcing many banks and building societies to tighten their belts.

Two per cent of those who receive advice from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service owe over £100,000.

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