Ask Sindie: Clenched teeth and cashpoint charges

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Although I assumed there were free cash machines nearby in the station, we were in a rush and the store's ATM - run by Cardpoint - was easier to access.

However, I was surprised to see there was no message on the "idling screen" - the one showing before you insert your card - warning me about the fee or saying how much to expect. (A plastic sign next to the keypad did, though, tell me there would be a charge.)

Only during the transaction, at the last prompt, was I informed of a £1.50 fee.

Surely this is against the rules? I thought all charging ATMs had to display costs upfront.

WB, Essex

A: Many people - to be found particularly among the operators of charging cash machines - are fond of writing off queries such as yours as irrelevant. "Everybody knows they charge" has become an all-too-common refrain.

But to be told exactly how much you're paying - usually between £1.50 and £2 - to withdraw cash from one of the UK's 20,000-odd charging ATMs is hardly an unreasonable demand. And it is one upheld by new rules.

Put in place on 1 July by Link, the body that runs the electronic cash network, these rules force all charging ATMs to carry an idling-screen message informing users of the exact fee.

Failure to comply could result in a fine, a curb on the future expansion of an operator's network, or even cash machines being turned off.

Maybe this is why your query caused a stir at Cardpoint, the firm behind the ATM in question. At first, it vehemently denied that the screen you saw bore a no-fee warning, and said all its machine software had been updated well in advance of 1 July. It suggested you must have been mistaken.

Its own staff checks last week supported this, Cardpoint added.

However, after further investigations, it now transpires that there was a problem - and that the rules were not complied with in this case.

"For some reason, [new software] didn't go to this screen," a Cardpoint spokesman admits. "We are now trying to find out why this happened."

He adds that the screen was updated shortly after you used it, and no other machines are affected.

Separately, Link is sending teams of "mystery shoppers" to ATMs around the country to check that the new rules are being met. Link has already been alerted to more than a dozen other similar reported incidents.

Q: We're moving to Leeds and I've been trying to sort out an NHS dentist in advance - to no avail.

So, for the first time in 12 years, I'm facing the prospect of going private. A local dentist has recommended Denplan as a way of keeping costs down.

Should I sign up to this specialist insurance policy? My teeth are in good condition, so I don't think I'll need to have treatment that often.

GR, Stockport

A: Adopting a "pay as you go" approach to your own teeth carries risks. If you look after them well and enjoy good luck, you could save a substantial sum. But circumstances aren't always within your control. For example, you could face a big bill if you lost teeth in an accident or needed major work such as a new bridge.

Prices can also vary wildly between private dentists, and shopping around on cost is still not as easy as it should be.

So a specialist insurance plan like that recommended by your dentist is probably worth considering.

Denplan is known as a "capitation" repayment plan. For a fixed monthly sum, it covers your teeth for routine and emergency dental treatment. So no matter how much work you need, your premium stays the same.

The policy pays out straight away - you don't have to dig into your own pocket and apply for reimbursement afterwards - and you are covered for check-ups, x-rays and restorative work including root-canal treatment.

But your monthly premium depends on the state of your mouth. After giving you an oral test, a dentist will place you in a price band. With your healthy teeth, you can probably expect to sit in a cheaper band; those with poor dental health will pay higher premiums.

Denplan (the UK's biggest operator of capitation schemes, with 1.4 million patients on its books) has five price bands. The average charge is £16 a month.

But if you need major restorative treatment such as a white crown, you'll have to pay the laboratory fee. This can be as much as £75 to £80.

Alternatively, consider mainstream dental insurance. This is again financed through monthly premiums but there is no examination to check the condition of your teeth. You pay the charges upfront and then claim them back.

The payouts could well be limited, though, as the insurer will usually only bear a percentage of the cost of treatment.

If you need help from our consumer champion, write to Sindie at The Independent on Sunday, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or email We cannot return documents, give personal replies or guarantee to answer letters. We accept no legal responsibility for advice.

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