Consumer rights: Will I lose out under the new pension rules?

From 2010, it will take fewer years of work to qualify for a full basic state pension / How to protect yourself when buying a second-hand car online
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I will be 60 in two years' time and I will have 44 years of National Insurance contributions. Could you tell me how the new rules affect me please? I may still be working then so do I still pay National Insurance Contributions (NICs)? Will people with full NI lose out with the new rules?

KV, Dover

As the rules stand, the amount of basic state pension you're entitled to is based on your NICs record over your working life from age 16 until state pension age. This record is made up from NI contributions paid or credited to you in each tax year. A minimum amount is required to make each year count as a "qualifying year" towards your overall contributions record.

At the moment, a man needs 44 years of contributions to qualify for a full basic state pension, and a woman 39 years. In your case, you will have the full 44 years required by the time you reach 60. However, the new rules you mention kick in on 6 April 2010. If you reach pension age (65 for a man and 60 for a woman) after 6 April 2010 you'll need fewer qualifying years than at present. Also, from that date the number of qualifying years needed for a full basic state pension for men and women will be the same – 30 years.

You'll get 1/30th of the full basic state pension for each qualifying year. This means that any number of qualifying years will give you entitlement to at least some basic state pension. So if, say, you had 10 qualifying years you would be entitled to 10/30th – a third – of the full basic state pension.

Today, even if you've accumulated your required number of qualifying years you have to go on paying up to pension age if you are employed. The same will apply under the new rules: you won't be able to reach your 30 qualifying years then simply stop paying, you'll have to go on paying until you reach pension age. So you will still be paying if you're working after 60. What isn't clear just now is whether or not unemployed men between 60 and 65 will get National Insurance credits. Because the number of qualifying years will have been reduced there isn't likely to be a need for credits after 60 and there is a suggestion that these will go.

It's also important to note that if you reach state pension age on or after 6 April 2010 eligibility for bereavement benefits (payable, if someone dies, to their spouse or civil partner if under state-pension age, and based on the deceased's NI contributions) will remain at up to 39 qualifying years for a woman and up to 44 for a man.

In answer to the last part of your question, you won't lose out. You've qualified for and will get the full basic state pension. It's just your qualifying years that will change.

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I'm thinking about buying a second-hand car over the internet. There seem to be some fairly good deals around but I'm just wondering whether it's a good idea from the point of view of my rights – what happens if things go wrong?

JD, Manchester

In theory, if you're buying a used car from a business over the internet, your rights are the same as the rights you have buying a car in person from a business. It has to be as advertised, safe to use and fit for purpose, and information about it has to be accurate and the description truthful. In many circumstances, you may also have additional rights under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. For example, that gives you the right to a seven-day cooling-off period and written information about the car, delivery arrangements and payment, the supplier's details and your cancellation rights.

I say "in theory", though, because it can be more difficult to get a refund, repair or compensation if you buy over the internet, so I'd advise you to be even more careful before you sign on the dotted line.

When you've found the right car, go and see it. Just because it's miles away doesn't mean that you should take the chance that it will turn out not to be in the condition you'd expect. That may cut down your options.

If there's a picture of a car on a website, check that it's the picture of the actual car. Some sellers may use representative pictures rather than "real" ones.

Find out as much as you can about the seller. Get their address. If you have to complain you'll need it and your rights vary depending on where the firm you're buying from is located. You probably aren't thinking of buying from outside the UK but remember that having a ".co.uk" or ".uk" internet address doesn't always mean the firm is in the UK. If you're considering going further afield, then EU countries have similar rights to UK ones, but you'll find it much more difficult to solve problems or disputes outside the EU.

No matter what you're buying online, you want to be sure you're buying from a reputable company and, if possible, that the site is "secure". If you decide to buy, print off the details of the firm you are dealing with, including terms and conditions, description of the car, quotes and completed order form. If you can, ask others who have used the company about their experience. Read the small print. If an online seller can't answer questions on warranty terms, delivery or product quality, go elsewhere. Have the car inspected by an expert – for a fee, the AA or RAC can arrange this – and get a vehicle data check carried out, which will give details of the car's history and any finance outstanding. This can be had via hpicheck.com.

Remember, if there is a hire purchase agreement attached to the car or the vehicle is stolen then even if you buy it it won't legally be yours.

Be wary if you're asked to send cash before you get the car. Check that any deposit is refundable. Use a credit card if possible as this gives you extra protection. If the dealer goes out of business before you get your car, or if there are faults with it, the card issuer may be equally liable.

If you're buying a used car from an individual over the internet, again you have the same protection as you would have if you bought the car in person – ie buyer beware. And remember that some sellers pose as individuals with just one car for sale when they're really dealers, so they can avoid complying with regulations. Check them out thoroughly. The trading standards department of the local council is always a good place to check any dealer. If you want more information before you commit yourself, see www.consumer direct.gov.uk – or call Consumer Direct on 08454 040506.

www.moneyagonyaunt.com

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Write to Julian Knight at the Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF j.knight@independent.co.uk

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