Refunds brought to halt by leaves on the line

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I recently travelled by train from Manchester to London. A journey that should have taken two and three-quarter hours actually took five hours. I established from the guard that compensation might be due, but he turned down my suggestion that he make an announcement to passengers telling us of our rights. He claimed everyone knew about the compensation arrangements and, in any case, someone would hand out forms when we got to Euston. In fact there was no one to meet us. I've made several phone calls to find out my rights but can't seem to get through to the right people. Any suggestions? AB, London

You've been badly let down by the system. But it seems fair to give the train operator, Virgin Trains, the benefit of the doubt. It has only just taken over this line - which is part of the West Coast Intercity rail franchise - and says it is in the process of sorting things out.

On its cross-country rail franchise, which it has held since January, Virgin has a policy of telling passengers about compensation and offers them a form to fill in while they are still on a delayed train. This policy will also be introduced on the West Coast line. In addition, every carriage should have a notice with the address of where to write to if you have comments or complaints, and the guard could at least have pointed this out to you. You'll need to contact Virgin Trains, Customer Relations, Meridian, 85 Smallbrook, Queensway, Birmingham B5 4HA (phone 0121-654 7400).

All train companies must have a passenger charter and compensation scheme, approved by the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising. The Virgin charter says that if your journey is delayed by more than one hour, you can claim travel vouchers worth at least 20 per cent of the ticket price. Hang on to your ticket to make a claim. The vouchers can be redeemed with any train operating company.

The voucher deal does not apply to holders of season tickets lasting one month or more. Season-ticket holders will be offered discounts on renewal if punctuality and reliability targets are not met, or an extension of the season ticket for days when no service is available.

Virgin will also consider cash refunds if you were not informed of a delay before you travelled, unless the hold-up was caused by matters beyond its control - vandalism or extreme weather, for example.

I have a grievance against my independent adviser, Sedgwick Financial Services, concerning the performance of a range of investments. I had a big sum to invest (redundancy money and a legacy) and the adviser came up with a package of 12 investments, for which it earned pounds 4,000 commission. A year later I've checked the performance league tables and less than half the investments show above-average performance compared with their peer group, while nearly half are in the bottom quarter.

I have also discovered that most had not performed above-average even for the period before I invested. An exchange of letters culminated in the adviser sending me a complaints form for the Personal Investment Authority Ombudsman. Is a complaint to the Ombudsman likely to be successful? CJ, Hampshire

You've nothing to lose but you may find the experience slow and frustrating - especially if, as is likely, you are unsuccessful. Poor investment performance alone rarely provides grounds for compensation. You would have to muster evidence to establish that the adviser was negligent in selecting the investments.

You would have more chance if the adviser failed to ask you about all your circumstances, your investment aims and the level of risk you were prepared to take. If the adviser got all the relevant information but still made unsuitable recommendations, you would also have a claim. An example of this would be to recommend the stock market to people who stated they wanted no risks at all. Other examples would be an investment whose tax treatment is clearly inappropriate for your circumstances; a growth investment for someone who wants to maximise income; or a regular- premium investment for someone who may well not be able to keep up the premiums.

Investors should grill an adviser for his or her reasons for any investment recommendations, although this advice may be too late for you. For example, why is the adviser suggesting you put your money in Europe rather than North America? Or why an insurance-based investment bond instead of a unit trust?

And ask yourself if you really need an adviser. Could you find the time to do a bit of research and make your own choices? After all, at least in the short term, you should be better off if you can save hefty fees or negotiate for the rebate of commission that would have gone to the adviser.

You can contact the Personal Investment Authority Ombudsman at Hertsmere House, Hertsmere Road, London El4 4AB (phone 0171 538 8860).

I've ticked the box to sell my windfall Alliance & Leicester shares. I've heard there could be tax on the sale proceeds of free building society shares when I sell them. Is this unavoidable? SW, Edinburgh

Capital gains tax may be payable when you sell shares and other assets for a higher price than you paid for them. Since you will have paid nothing for your windfall shares, the entire proceeds are liable to the tax.

The gain is normally taxable at the same rate as your highest rate of income tax. However, the first pounds 6,500 of gains (in the current tax year) are tax-free. If the gain from all sales of shares and other chargeable assets is likely to exceed this figure, it may be worth selling some of the shares in the next tax year.

q Write to Steve Lodge, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, and include a telephone number. Do not enclose SAEs or any documents that you wish to be returned. We cannot give personal replies or guarantee to answer every letter we receive. We accept no legal responsibility for any advice given.

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