Questions of cash: Credit card payments abroad still an issue

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Q. I have been charged a no-show fee of €130.50 (£ 91.30) by the Intercontinental. The UK Expedia branch says the booking was made by the US operation, but it says it has no record of a booking. As far as I am concerned the credit card payment was made without authorisation.

Q. Earlier this year I tried to book accommodation at the Cologne Intercontinental Hotel via its website. After struggling with technical problems I used the Expedia UK travel website instead, which initially offered the same price but when I got to the point of confirming the booking the price went up, so I did not confirm and booked another hotel. But I have been charged a no-show fee of €130.50 (£ 91.30) by the Intercontinental. The UK Expedia branch says the booking was made by the US operation, but it says it has no record of a booking. As far as I am concerned the credit card payment - using NatWest MasterCard - was made without authorisation.
PT, by email.

A. Credit card issuers are responsible for the provision of goods and services in the UK paid for by a credit card, under the Consumer Credit Act. Legal clarification is awaited as to whether that responsibility extends overseas. Like other credit card issuers, Royal Bank of Scotland, owners of NatWest, has a dispute resolution service to deal with problems and is investigating your case at our request. The bank is in the process of charging back the transaction to the retailer and lifting the charge on your bill.

Q. Is it a good idea if elderly people face going into residential care to dispose of their assets to obtain means-tested benefits and free care?
AS, Orkney.

A. No. Philip Spiers of the Nursing Homes Fees Agency says this is unlikely to work as local authorities when conducting the means-test for free care will ask if the claimant ever owned a house, and if so why it was given away. If the council concludes it was gifted to avoid paying for care the value of this notional capital would be treated as still being held. To avoid being penalised for the gift, the claimant may be committing a criminal act of fraud and would only be entitled to live in care accommodation which the local authority can afford, which may not be what the individual would have chosen.

Q.I paid £4,077 into the Royal Bank of Scotland's Preston branch on 28 September, have a stamp in my paying-in book to prove this, but the bank has lost the deposit. RBS has suggested I obtain replacement cheques, which would reflect badly on me. Who is liable if I cannot get them?
PS, by email.

A. Dilys Trethowan, a financial services solicitor with Bevans, says a court would probably expect you to be reasonable in co-operating, and suggests you ask RBS to request the replacement cheques, thus making clear it lost the cheques. Ms Trethowan is confident that if the case went to court the bank would be made liable for the loss. We understand that RBS has now credited your account with the cheques it has lost and taken responsibility to obtain replacements, offering to meet any costs involved in stopping the original cheques.

Q. I received a letter from Sainsbury offering 0.25 per cent cashback as an alternative to Nectar loyalty card points. This represents poor value as I receive two Nectar points for each pound I spend, so for every £1,000 of purchases I get a £10 voucher for Sainsbury's stores, but with cashback I would get just £2.50.
TS, by email

A. Sainsbury confirms your calculation that on your card, cashback is worth much less than Nectar points. But this is only true for Sainsbury's customers such as yourself holding the store cards issued between 1997 and 2000. Holders of more recent Nectar cards are only entitled to loyalty points on the basis of one point for every £2 spent, so for them cashback is of equal value to Nectar points.

Q. Answering a recent question (Questions of Cash, 23 October) NatWest explained why cheque transactions can take four working days. Why do electronic payments by any bank take the same time, when there is no paper to be posted? ATM withdrawals worldwide are charged the same day.
DS, Sheffield

A. Individuals who bank over the internet may be able to conduct instant transfers between accounts held with the same bank. The problem is with transfers between banks. The Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS) tells us this is because there is no dedicated system for such transfers, which rely on other clearing systems that typically require three working days for payments to clear.

The Office of Fair Trading has established a working group to reduce the time it takes to clear electronic payments. The group is expected to announce proposals early next year.

* If you have questions, write to: Questions of Cash, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London, E14 9RS, or e-mail: cash@independent.co.uk. We can reply only to letters published. Please send copies, not originals

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