Questions Of Cash: BA baggage charges fail the publicity test

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Q. On Christmas Eve we flew from Heathrow to Zurich with BA. We travelled with our normal luggage for a skiing holiday so were surprised and upset to be charged £90 for excess luggage and told if we did not pay we would receive a bill for £180. This is not just an excess charge, but an excessive charge as it represents the cost of two one-way tickets. The prices are not advised in advance and they are not contained on the website for European flights.
P&IT, Hove.

A. BA refutes your suggestion that it does not clearly advise passengers of excess baggage charges, pointing out that you were advised of your free baggage limit when you booked. However, to determine the level of charges, BA customers must log on to its website and insert "excess baggage" into the search function and then read the basis of the charges. BA believes this is a reasonable way to keep customers informed - we do not agree. The company says that the variety of excess baggage charges and the fact that rates can vary daily according to exchange rates make it impractical to list the information any other way. Legally a seller must make charges explicit and we have referred your complaint for consideration on to the trading standards officers' specialist group on the travel industry.

Q. I no longer know who is supplying my electricity - I have not had a bill since August. I enquired in April about changing my supply from Powergen to British Gas, but decided to stay with Powergen and did not sign the contract sent to me by British Gas authorising a change of supplier. But in June I received a "sorry you are leaving" letter from Powergen. I have tried to tell both Powergen and British Gas that I want to stay with Powergen, but I have received a final bill from Powergen, it is not taking money from my bank through its direct debit and neither company is sending me any invoices.
AH, Saffron Walden

A. Powergen says that it cancelled your account on the basis that British Gas claims to have a valid contract signed by you. British Gas confirms that it is supplying you, but has not yet finalised the administration of your account.

Q. I purchased two Standard Life endowment policies in 1983 and 1986, which have since underperformed, from a branch of the Halifax. But neither Standard Life or Halifax will consider my claim for mis-selling, saying that the person who sold them was an independent agent. I have tried to contact the agent, but he is no longer trading.
HE, Suffolk

A. The person who sold you the policies was an independent adviser, who had an agency arrangement with Halifax to conduct customers' account transactions on its behalf from his office. Neither Halifax nor Standard Life was responsible for endowment policies sales made by him. We managed to track down the adviser, who is trading in a nearby town under a different business name. However, it is very difficult to prove a mis-selling claim for financial products pre-dating 28 August 1988, when stronger consumer protection legislation came into effect. In your case, you have no paperwork that supports your recollection of a verbal promise that the endowment would more than pay off your mortgage. In these circumstances, you stand no chance of obtaining compensation.

Q. I tried to transfer my Carphone Warehouse mobile phone account to Vodafone. When I requested from Carphone Warehouse a Porting Authorisation Code [to continue using the same mobile phone numbers] I was repeatedly obstructed. I have spent two months trying to resolve this and to cancel my contract, unsuccessfully despite many phone calls.
R S, London

A. We sympathise - it has taken four months for Carphone Warehouse to provide us with a comment on your situation, despite repeated requests. Eventually, Carphone Warehouse told us you had requested a contract cancellation on the grounds of alleged bad service, without "registering" a complaint or providing grounds. On that basis the company refuses to waive the balance on your account, including the early cancellation fee. It did not comment on your problems in "porting" (transferring) your number to Vodafone.

Q. I am trying to find a bank or building society that accepts cash into a savings account that meets Revenue & Customs rules for pension saving for tax relief. Abbey used to offer this, but no longer does. I can only find unitised schemes, but I want to see clearly the amounts deposited and interest paid. Since it is cash deposited I expect no charges. Who offers these schemes?
TQ, Lymington

A. Donna Bradshaw, financial planning strategist at IFG Group, says: "If you have a self-invested personal pension (SIPP) or a small self-administered scheme (SSAS) you can hold cash in a bank or building society account. This might appear attractive, but you need to consider the higher charges which make it unattractive for small cash holdings. Interest rates are sometimes uncompetitive. Looking at a SIPP provider which offers one of the highest interest rates and competitive charges, PAL Partnership Ltd ( www.palpartners.net), you need to invest £58,000 in year one to match the return from a stakeholder pension."

Q. I am a new 3 customer and the company's poor customer service is getting to me. All I want is for them to reduce my credit limit from £120 per month to £35 per month, so that if my phone gets stolen I don't get landed with a hefty bill. I cannot even get through to anyone at 3 to discuss this.
PC, by e-mail.

A. 3 refuses to comply with your request. It says that the credit limit is for internal control purposes and cannot be amended to suit a customer's own needs. Obviously you need to consider how best to protect your phone to prevent it getting stolen. But if you believe this is a serious problem we suggest that when your current contract expires you move to a pay-as-you-go arrangement, which effectively caps your liability for calls in the event of theft.

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