Questions Of Cash: 'Can you save us from bungling BT and crazy bills?'


Q. My 88-year-old cousin lives in a nursing home. When she moved there last year she contracted with BT for a line in her room. All worked well until September, when she had a letter from BT welcoming her as a customer and giving her a completely new phone number in another area. The letter quoted her bank details. She replied that she did not want a second phone line. Her letter was ignored. In November she received another letter from BT, apologising for not having sent a bill. When that bill arrived it was for £154.01 and included both phone numbers. Payment was collected by direct debit. My cousin wrote and phoned again, without success. I spoke to BT, which insisted that all calls on this second line would have to be paid for by my cousin, even though she has no second line! Next time I spoke to BT, it said the matter had been resolved with my cousin – which was untrue. BT then accepted its mistake and sent a credit note for £106.31. But the next bill included her line rental, the call charges on this second line, plus a £70 line cancellation fee, payment for which – £173.58 – was taken from her by direct debit. HM, Bristol.

A. BT has accepted that it wrongly allocated a second phone line to your cousin's account, for which she had no responsibility. This should have been obvious to BT from communications from your cousin and yourself, but it seems that only our intervention persuaded BT. It has refunded £176.31, which it calculates to be the overcharge. BT has also agreed to send your cousin a £30 M&S token and will not levy any charges to your cousin for three months.

Q. Last year, my wife and I opened fixed rate HiSave accounts with ICICI Bank. I am concerned that it keeps sending bulletins advising reviewed rates (always downwards). I have attempted to contact the bank to confirm that I am on a fixed interest account. My emails to its online customer services keep being returned to me as an invalid address. When I phoned, I obtained a recorded message saying all its staff are busy. Should I worry about the bank's status? JC, by email.

A.The bank is currently listed by Moneyfacts.co.uk as offering the best fixed-rate bond savings rate of 3.9 per cent. The parent bank is the largest private bank in India and its latest results, published in January, show increased operating profits and a strong capital adequacy ratio. In the UK, ICICI reported a small after-tax loss, with the bank making losses on its exposure to securities. Fitch's ratings agency gives the parent bank a BBB rating, its lowest investment grade rating, having downgraded ICICI at the end of last year. This is a weaker rating than it gave the Icelandic banks shortly before they collapsed. The bank's perceived vulnerability is based on questions about the strength of some of its assets. ICICI is a member of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and should the bank become unable to repay depositors, savings up to £50,000 would be fully covered by the FSCS. Repeated attempts to speak to the bank's Indian head office were unsuccessful. Our emails to the bank bounced.

Q. I run a small firm. Two of our customers' cheques bounced in December. This is shown on our December bank statement, but our bank, Abbey, has still not provided details of which customers this refers to. Previously, Abbey has sent us the cheques back, but not this time. Our phone calls have resulted in four different explanations, the worst being that Abbey will no longer reveal the customer details unless we pay a £10 fee per bounced cheque! How does Abbey expect us to get this money back if it doesn't tell us whose cheques have bounced? JB, Newcastle.

A. Abbey accepts that "the service received regarding the bounced cheques has been unacceptable" and it apologises. It has now provided you with the information required and will pay you £50 as an ex-gratia payment.

Q. I live in Germany and work as an English teacher but plan to return to Britain at the beginning of next year. How can I open a bank account in England while still living in Germany? I regularly visit England and it would be much more convenient if I could open an account there. CH, Germany.

A. Several UK banks will not allow people living outside the UK to open accounts. Others only do so for customers passing a minimum affluence test. Barclays requires at least £5,000 to be maintained in a current account, or for the customer to have an annual salary of at least £24,000 to be deposited in the account on a monthly basis. HSBC offers a more useful "Passport" account, which can be held by someone without a UK address. You would, though, need to prove your identity at an HSBC branch in the UK before the account could be finalised and approved. There is a £6 monthly charge on the account. Customers of the account are entitled to reduced charges on foreign currency transfers.

Q. I made an online booking for a family room at the Sleaford Travelodge hotel, for three adults for one night. I paid £64.15 by credit card, including £1 insurance in case of cancellation. I had to take my frail parents, both in their eighties, to a family funeral. But there was bad snow, the roads were treacherous and I decided that it was safer to stay at another Travelodge nearer to where we were. I phoned Sleaford Travelodge, which told me I could not transfer the booking, or arrange a refund with them. I was told to phone Travelodge's administrative office to obtain the refund. We then stayed at South Cave Travelodge. But I have been unable to obtain the refund for the cancelled Sleaford booking. SW, Salisbury.

A. Travelodge says you cancelled after the specified cut-off time for a notified cancellation so your insurance policy did not cover you. As a goodwill gesture it has issued you with a voucher for £51 – the cost of your stay at South Cave. Travelodge declines to credit your card account.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@independent.co.uk

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