Q. My fiancé and I had our wedding rings and my engagement ring made by a reputable jeweller in London. They cost around £4,000. However, they've developed flaws – despite the wedding rings not being worn. We asked for our money back. The jeweller refused, saying we must have damaged the rings, so, on the advice of Consumer Direct, we had another jeweller (recommended by the National Association of Goldsmiths) examine them and his report indicated that they were faulty. It cost almost £200. The original jeweller wouldn't accept the report and still maintained we had damaged the rings but he offered to make us new ones. We turned that down as we'd lost confidence by then. Having reached an impasse we were advised that as we'd paid by credit card our credit-card company should help. It's stalling. What can we do? We can't afford new rings, are desperate to get this resolved, and it's ruining our wedding plans.
A. The good news is that, since we first talked, the credit-card company has paid everything, including the cost of the independent report, the day before the wedding. Talk about cutting things fine. There are several points here. If goods are faulty you should be entitled to a replacement or a refund. If a retailer refuses, Consumer Direct is the place to go for initial advice on the strength of your case, at consumerdirect.gov.uk. You followed its advice and were still stuck. The next step was to turn to a trade association for mediation, but the jeweller wasn't a member of one. You told me that as a consumer, you didn't feel you had any protection.
In cases where a retailer refuses to budge, the only recourse is to claim against him or her in court. That is part of the consumer protection process but is not something most people want to do and I suspect the jeweller banked on that. I've talked to jewellers who have told me that even though an independent report says the rings are faulty, it could be the fault of the design, the materials or the jeweller, so no one wants to accept blame. But your contract is with the retailer and so your case is against him. However, under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the card company has joint liability with the retailer if the card is used to buy goods worth more than £100 and less than £30,000. The card company won't pay up without question. It will investigate, and if it believed you damaged the goods then it would refuse your claim. In your case, though, the card company eventually did accept the report's findings and paid in full. Thank goodness you didn't go shopping with a stack of cash from under the mattress.
Buy anything costing over £100 using your credit card, though be careful to pay off the total outstanding balance each month so as not to incur interest charges. Not all debit cards give you the same protection, so check with your debit card company. And try to find a trader who is a member of a trade association with a mediation service.
Q. I am a 46-year-old married mother. I have worked in the health service, full and part time; the education authority part time; and now very part time for a nursery and art gallery. I know I paid national insurance when with the health authority but I need to ensure I will get my full state pension when I reach the magic age. I should be grateful if you would point me to an easy-to-understand guide on how to work it out and what, if anything, to do.
A. First things first: get a pension forecast. That will give you, in today's money values, an estimate of how much basic and additional state pension you may get based on your national insurance contributions so far, and an estimate of basic and additional state pension you may get when you claim your state pension.
You can get a forecast by post or telephone if you live in the UK, which you do, and are more than 30 days away from state pension age, which you are. The other option is to get your forecast online, which again you can do as you are more than four months away from state-pension age and you are married, not widowed or someone whose civil partner has died. The forecast will show you how much you need to pay in voluntary contributions to build a full contributions record and qualify for a full pension. That's the easy bit; if you go to thepensionservice.gov.uk you'll find all the information you need.
Before I move on to the difficult bit, it's worth mentioning what you call "the magic age". From 6 April 2020, the state-pension age for women will be 65, the same as for men. Women's state-pension age will start to change gradually from 2010. This won't affect women born on or before 5 April 1950, who can still claim their state pension at 60. But you were born well after 6 April 1955 so your "magic age" at which you can take your state pension will be 65. But there's another element to this calculation. The state-pension age for men and women is to rise from 65 to 68 between 2024 and 2046. It will increase from 65 to 66 between April 2024 and April 2026 so by the time you reach 65 in 2028 (by my calculations) the state retirement age will be 66. It will increase again from 66 to 67 between April 2034 and April 2036; and from 67 to 68 between April 2044 and April 2046.
Now for the difficult bit. Andrew Wilkins, a pension adviser with Philip T English in Banbury, says you have to decide, in light of the information from your pension forecast, whether it's worth putting money into additional voluntary contributions to bring yourself up to a full state pension at 66. You may decide that there are better ways of saving the money. And given that the state pension does not allow you to live in anything close to luxury you might want to think about whether you need some form of private pension provision to give you additional income in retirement.
It depends on whether you can afford to pay into an additional pension pot, what your family circumstances are, and what other savings you have. You have 20 years in which to build up financial security. A good pension adviser can help you do the sums and will go through your personal circumstances to help you decide on the best course of action. Ask friends and family for recommendations of someone they trust and ask before the appointment how the adviser charges.