Questions Of Cash: Can I get money back from extra pension?

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Q. I invested in an additional voluntary contributions pension policy, but I am very disappointed at the return. I believe that from April you can withdraw the value of a policy as a lump sum where the total investment is under £15,000. Is this correct?
MA, Birmingham.

A. Donna Bradshaw, a financial planning strategist at IFG Group, says: "While it is true that from 6 April it will be possible to take what are known as 'trivial' pensions as a lump sum - 25 per cent of which can be taken tax-free and the remainder taxable - the figure of £15,000 applies to the total of all pensions from all sources and not each individual pension pot. If the total value of your AVCs, your company scheme and any other schemes is greater than £15,000, you will not be able to take it as a lump sum."

Bradshaw suggests you seek independent financial advice to consider remedies for the underlying cause of your problem - the weak performance of your pension plan - and whether you should move your investment.

Q. I have been billed for £1,300 for scaffolding costs by my insurer, Norwich Union. In February 2005 I discovered the roof of my terraced house was spreading, so scaffolding was necessary to secure the front wall while my claim was investigated. It is unclear when damage began; it may have been while my property was previously insured with Saga, but underwritten by Norwich Union.

The loss adjuster handling my claim against Norwich Union advised me also to claim against Saga because of the uncertainty of when damage occurred, but my claim was rejected by Saga on the basis there was insufficient lateral support for the roof structure. Norwich Union subsequently rejected my claim on the same basis. The same loss adjuster handled both claims.

If my claim against Norwich Union had been rejected quickly, I would not have made the further claim against Saga and I would have had the work done speedily at my expense, saving the cost of the scaffolding. I believe it is unjust that Norwich Union refuses to meet the scaffolding costs.
VH, London.

A. Norwich Union disputes your version of events. It says that from the outset, the loss adjuster advised that while the scaffolding was necessary for safety reasons, your damage had not arisen from an insured peril and the scaffolding costs were therefore not covered by your insurance.

The loss adjuster also advised that as the damage had occurred prior to the beginning of your Norwich Union policy, any further attempt to recover your costs would have to be taken up with your previous insurer. Norwich Union confirms that it believes its original decision was correct. If you wish to challenge this, you need to take it up with the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Q. I phoned Flybe to book a flight and was told to transfer to a different number for flight confirmation. I was asked if I was calling from within or outside the UK - if I had called from outside the UK, I would have been given an ordinary phone number, but within the UK you are told to phone an 0871 number. For subscribers to many UK phone services, STD numbers are free, while 0870 and 0871 numbers cost 10p a minute. Surely all callers should have the choice of standard or 0871 numbers?
PH, by e-mail.

A. Your point is valid. Vivian Woodall, chief executive of the Phone Co-op, a telecoms intermediary and supplier, told us: "Call centres using 0870 and 0871 numbers may receive about 3p per minute for daytime calls if they have a lot of volume."

In other words, 30 per cent of your payment for making an 0871 number may be going to the company you are calling. In a statement, Flybe said that using an 0871 number was fairer as it meant all callers paid the same. It added that callers could, if they wished, phone the company on its ordinary phone number.

Q. I have been a 3 customer since 2003. I took out subscriptions for two numbers, one a contract number and a second on the 3togo system. Direct debits were established for both numbers. But 3 overcharged me substantially and claimed £140 on the direct debit for the contract number when bills were less than £50. I asked for a copy of the bills and 3 charged me £5.

After I cancelled my direct debit, 3 tried to claim £207; on non-payment it froze my phone lines. I reluctantly paid the bill to get my phone working again, which then put me massively in credit on my 3togo phone. 3 did not repay the overpayment so I stopped paying the bills and then 3 froze my phones again, losing me work as I am self-employed. I am still receiving bills for the 3togo number months after I tried to close the account.
LK, Reading.

A. Your problems are similar to those of many other 3 customers, who have generated a continuing flow of letters of complaint. 3 accepts that as a result of an administrative error, it entered a payment on the wrong account. As a gesture of goodwill, 3 is waiving all outstanding charges on your account.

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; cash@independent.co.uk.

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