Questions Of Cash: Banks should check ID more carefully

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Q. I have a Halifax passbook account, which contained £6,000. When I moved house in December my passbook, passport and other documents were stolen. I notified Halifax immediately, but in the following days the money was removed from my account. Halifax says that I did not instruct it to freeze my passbook account, so I have to bear the loss. But I did and now I desperately need the money. YR, London.

A. Halifax should have required photographic proof of identity, and if the thief presented your passport as ID it suggests that the bank clerk did not check it carefully. We asked Halifax to listen to its recording of your initial call to confirm that you had requested the account be frozen. Halifax has now agreed to refund you the full £6,000.

Q. I have been a broadband Tiscali customer since April, paying by initially by credit card and then by cheque. Yet Tiscali has sent me repeated "suspension notices". I emailed requests for an itemised account of the supposed debt. These were all ignored until 5 February, when I had five emails in five minutes and then a sixth saying I had been successfully upgraded. Then on February 10 both my broadband and phone were cut-off. I called Tiscali's helpline and spent over 50 minutes listening to music. The lady I eventually spoke to insisted I had to pay £29.98 to have my service reconnected. DF, by email.

A. Tiscali says the problem lies with the fact that your credit card payment instructions were not honoured. It explains that you were then "playing catch-up" with your cheques, with the result that in a 10 month period you only paid for eight months. This led to your service being cut-off. We have many letters of complaint about Tiscali. The root of the difficulties seems to be that its customer service is poor – as is its ability to respond to our complaints on readers' behalf. It is time that Tiscali improved its service.

Q. My wife and I are receiving frequent demands to pay £14,000 from a debt collecting agency Mackenzie Hall, on behalf of its client Cabot Financial. We have no knowledge of this debt, but repeated letters to Mackenzie Hall asking for details have not been answered. JG, Sussex.

A. Mackenzie Hall has been trying to collect a debt that Cabot Financial bought from another financial institution. In your case, Cabot has relied on information provided by the Callcredit reference agency. Callcredit wrongly assumed that your wife was responsible for the debt of another person of the same name, who has a different address. Both Mackenzie Hall and Cabot now accept that your wife and yourself are not responsible for this debt and will make no further effort to seek the money from either of you. You are unhappy that Cabot refuses to disclose how the debt originated, but Cabot quotes the Data Protection Act as a reason for not doing so – and it clearly has a commercial interest in not saying where it buys debt from. The important thing is that everyone now accepts that the debt is not yours. Callcredit says that it has completed an investigation into what went wrong. Its conclusion is that it made a wrong association between the other household and your own based on flimsy evidence. "It may have been more appropriate for a slightly more cautious approach on this occasion," it concedes. However, there is a lesson here for you. Back in 2003 or so, Cabot wrote to you asking for your previous addresses. On a point of principle, you suggested this was none of its business. While the response is understandable, it is part of the reason you have had your subsequent difficulties. Irritating though it is, failure to co-operate with credit reference agencies and financial services companies can damage your financial reputation. We asked Callcredit for an promise that the incorrect association would not be repeated. A spokeswoman for Callcredit assured us: "The financial link has now been removed from our databases and will not be supplied to any of our clients, including Cabot, in the future."

Q. I cancelled my Pipex Broadband subscription in August last year, yet the next month I was charged a further monthly payment. Pipex agreed to make a refund, but only did so in October, and then only half the amount promised. I have phoned repeatedly for the balance, but not received it. RB, London.

A. Pipex, which is now part of Tiscali, accepts that it made a mistake and has refunded the £14.99 balance.

Q. In February last year, we bought a flat in Teignmouth. We had our water metered for many years, but when I requested South West Water to do this at the flat it said this was not possible. A few months later, South West Water was able to install a meter. In the mean time, we have been charged £322 for the period February 22 to May 23, during which we occupied the flat for 28 days. The metered period from May 23 to December 31 was just £19.96. Our monthly payment in Sussex is £13.59. South West Water want us to pay the bill in full – is a compromise possible? RH, Cuckfield.

A. Where a property is regarded as a second home, water companies are permitted by the water regulator to levy a charge based on its rateable value. This is because it is impossible for the water supply company to know whether occupation is occasional, or there is regular heavy use by friends and family. A water meter would have resolved this – but your outside supply pipe went to more than one property, so a meter was uneconomic. Subsequently, the costs of fitting internal meters have fallen and that is what South West Water has done. For an interim period, you were on a tariff described as an "assessed charge" – the averaged charge to second home owners. But this meant that you were on three tariffs in a year and added confusion. Your billing is now based on metered usage. Because South West Water's actions are, it believes, in compliance with the rules set down by the water regulator it is not offering any reduction on your bills.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. Please do not send original documents. Write to: Questions of Cash, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS;

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