Questions Of Cash: 'Confusion over online flights left us high and dry'

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The Independent Online

Q. In March, I was looking at the easyJet website for flights to Bordeaux for four people, plus car hire. Somehow, by mistake, I booked the flights and car hire. I found a helpline, costing 65p per minute, where the operator told me she could cancel the car hire. But because it was more than 24 hours before I contacted easyJet, it was not prepared to refund the air fares, only the taxes. I have sent four emails to easyJet, without reply. We are pensioners and this is a lot of money, which will affect us very badly. KB, by email.

A. It is very unusual for airlines to agree to refunds in these situations. But easyJet has made an exception, recognising that the error arose from your confusion and apparent unfamiliarity with the internet. As a goodwill gesture, it is crediting you £349.28 to purchase other easyJet flights. You must book the flights by 16 December this year, but there are no other restrictions. EasyJet has no record of your emails requesting a refund.

Q. Our 25-year endowment policy with Norwich Union matured on 7 July. It was to support a loan of £17,814. Our last yearly statement in July 2008 quoted a return of £17,200 if returns remained at 4 per cent. They also quoted for 5 per cent and 6 per cent. At their worst estimate, the policy would be £614 short. On 26 May this year we received a letter from NU asking for bank details to pay the policy, quoting an estimated return of £16,456.21. But on 15 July, a payment of just £15,254.91 was made. The policy lost over £1,200 in three weeks. There was no explanation. BR, by email.

A. Yours is a common problem. Which? expects more than 90 per cent of endowment mortgages maturing this year not to pay-off in full the mortgages. Catastrophic falls in share values severely damaged the value of the policies in the period running-up to maturity. Aviva, the new brand name of Norwich Union, says: "Unfortunately, due to unprecedented turmoil in the financial markets – especially through the second half of 2008 and the first half of 2009 – final bonus rates on this type of policy were reduced with effect from 1 July 2009." Your policy matured five days after this and was adversely affected. Aviva adds: "We have issued annual warning letters that the final amount was unlikely to achieve the target value. However, we cannot confirm the actual shortfall until the terminal bonuses are declared at the end of the policy term. The final bonus on a policy can only ever be estimated throughout the term of a plan and the final maturity calculation was done at [the reader's] maturity date, regrettably, applying the newly declared final bonus rate." The estimate you were given three weeks before maturity used the previous bonus rate, which would have given you a bonus of £2,600, whereas with the revised bonus rate it was only £1,400. Aviva says, while it regrets your shortfall, it was caused by "current economic conditions and is industry-wide", so is "unable to pay towards the shortfall".

Q. Last October I went into an Abbey branch to transfer £66,000 to my account in Australia because of the favourable exchange rate of the Australian dollar against sterling. I was promised the money would be transferred by 3pm that day. When I checked my account a week later I found it had not been made. I returned to my branch, by when the exchange rate had improved further. The manager promised the transfer would be made by 3pm that day. I checked the next day and again the transfer had not been made: within 30 minutes it was. But, by then, the exchange rate had dropped and I lost £5,000 from the delay. I complained to the Financial Ombudsman, who ruled I had not made a loss as the exchange rate used was better than when I first requested the transfer. I was offered £150 for inconvenience and goodwill. I believe the Financial Ombudsman ruled against me because I provided information on the first request, which was background to my complaint. I referred it to adjudication, which confirmed the Ombudsman's decision. I will appeal to the actual Ombudsman, but I have no confidence in his decision. Abbey's offer is derisory given its level of incompetence. SC, Barnstaple.

A. Abbey stands by its view that you made no loss if the entire period of the transaction instruction is taken into account. It says that on the date the funds were credited to your Australian account, 17 October 2008, "the exchange rate was higher than on the previous three days, and higher than all but two of the days between 7 October 2008 and 16 October 2008." The bank adds that the terms and conditions for CHAPS and worldwide payments give it six days to make a payment to a country outside the EU, which it complied with. "Therefore the payment requested on 14 October 2008 was made within the acceptable timescales." We suggest next time you make a transfer of this size you consider using a currency broker, such as HiFX, Currencies Direct or Travelex. You can compare the fees and exchange rates with those of your bank prior to making a transaction. Mark Bodega, a director of HiFX, calculates you would have saved up to 4 per cent (around £2,600) if you had used a currency broker on your previous transfer, because brokers work on smaller margins. You should also be able to arrange an urgent payment, to take immediate advantage of favourable exchange rates. Bodega says: "With HiFX all payments will be transferred on the agreed value date providing we have received your cleared funds and onward payment instructions before mid-day."

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