Money News: EC acts to cut off overpriced international mobile calls

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The Independent Online

The "unreasonably high" cost of making and receiving international calls on a mobile phone is set to tumble under heavy pressure from the European Commission.

Six months after the launch of an EC consumer website that set out to shame mobile firms by exposing their charges, customers are still having "to pay unreasonably high prices for using their phones abroad", according to Vivienne Reding, European commissioner for information, society and media.

The price of a four-minute phone call back home has "generally stayed at the same high level", the Commission found. For UK mobile customers on contracts, the standard cost of making a call from the Continent on their handset varies from 70p (Orange) to 85p (O 2) per minute.

Although some phone companies have introduced special "roaming" deals, these have not been widely taken up, either because of the extra charges involved or because consumers must actively request them.

"A mobile phone customer shouldn't be charged a higher tariff just because he's travelling abroad," added Ms Reding. The Commission is now working on proposals to slash roaming charges.

Ideas under discussion include the "home price", where you pay as if on your domestic tariff; paying at local rates when making local calls abroad, such as for a taxi; and abolishing charges to receive calls.

The Commission is to have a consultation process with the industry, and says new prices could be in place by June.

Split-cap scandal: Investors offered 'no blame' payouts

Tens of thousands of investors who lost money in the split-capital investment trust debacle have been offered compensation of just 40p for every pound.

A compensation fund of £115.2m is to be divvied up between 25,000 investors within the next two months. The average loss to each was £11,400, according to Fund Distribution Limited, the company set up to deal with split-cap compensation. Each investor will collect in the region of £4,560.

Only those people who bought "zero-dividend" preference shares in the trusts will qualify for compensation.

Split caps were often wrongly marketed as "low-risk" investments. Between 2000 and 2003, parts of the industry collapsed as tumbling stock markets exposed a complex network of trusts that had invested in each other, artificially propping up prices. As split caps fell in value, millions of pounds belonging to ordinary investors were wiped out.

A subsequent investigation by the City regulator, the Financial Services Authority, demanded compensation for investors from the providers involved. However, the £115.2m was offered by the industry only on condition that no blame was attached to it.

Philippa Gee of independent financial adviser Torquil Clark said: "Those investors who suffered at the hands of these trusts are now left with an extremely sour taste in their mouths. If a fault has been found, then compensation should be at a more appropriate level to rectify the damage caused."

Investors have six weeks to decide whether to accept the offer.

Personal debt: Banks to open customer records to credit agency

Four major UK banking groups are to share details of their customers' income with the CallCredit agency as part of attempts to tackle the problem of debt-ridden consumers.

HSBC, HBOS (Halifax and Bank of Scotland), Lloyds TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland (including NatWest) have all agreed to send the agency details of current accounts.

In turn, the agency will conduct an "affordability" check on each customer to monitor the heavily indebted - those people managing to repay only the minimum on, say, seven credit cards - and measure their debts in relation to income. In theory, the process should mean that these people are not in future lent inappropriate sums.

CallCredit will provide the banks with its debt-monitoring reports, but no bank will be allowed to see income information on a rival's customers.

As bad debt write-offs continue to rise, and amid fears of encouraging a consumer credit bubble, most lenders now share "negative" data. This may include how often customers miss payments, as well as some "positive" or behavioural information, such as how much is spent on a card each month.

Barclaycard, Britain's biggest credit card provider, is not taking part in the CallCredit scheme. It will instead conduct its own review of customers' spending behaviour, a spokesman said.

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