Money Grouse: Late card bills hard to digest

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Can customers be billed for a service several years after they first paid for it with their credit cards? For Northern Ireland teacher Derek Polley this is not an academic question.

Mr Polley is still waiting for his account to be charged the cost of a meal eaten in Canada more than three years ago. Nor is this the first time his statements have not tallied with the credit card bills he believes he has signed.

Since July 1991 he has waited in vain for a petrol bill to be presented by his local garage. Another meal eaten last year aboard a cross-Channel ferry has failed to appear on his charge card statements.

The problem appears to arise when the providers of goods and services fail to send in details of a customers's bill to the credit card company. Months, or even years later, the bill can suddenly appear on that month's credit statement.

Mr Polley asks wrily: 'Will my heirs be liable for these bills incurred by their gourmet ancestors if there is no time limit on them?'

It is not that Mr Polley prefers to stay silent in the hope that he will avoid paying for the service. He said: 'The first few times this happened I waited a few months, returned to the retailer, explained about honesty and my conscience and paid the bill again.'

All was fine until one store accepted his offer of a fresh payment but then double- billed him by sending his original credit slip in to the card company. It took months to solve that problem.

Barclays Bank operates through the card issuer Visa, which says a bill should be presented for payment within 30 days if the service is being paid for in the UK and 45 days if abroad.

'If a customer were to come back to us because the bill had been presented very late we would look at it sympathetically,' a Barclays spokeswoman said.

Lloyds Bank, which markets Access cards to its own customers, operates the same policy. But a bank spokesman added helpfully: 'If we know that a customer has died before the bill is presented there would not be a charge to his heirs. We would not want to cause additional stress.'

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