Questions of Cash: Don't want direct debit? Sorry, but Virgin Media can't answer the call


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The Independent Online

Q. I wrote to Virgin Media in February requesting details of its charges, which are not provided in the company's monthly statements.

It took five months and six letters to obtain. I requested them as there had been an increase in my charges of almost 15 per cent.

After taking into account an extra service, Talk Mobile, for £2 a month, the increase in my charges was 11.7 per cent.

Virgin Media levies a "payment handling charge" of £5, which I feel is unjustified, because I will not pay by direct debit.

Each month I obtain my bill online, print it out and pay by bank transfer. I do not believe that it costs Virgin Media £5 to handle this. I have now requested that all bills should be posted – which I will then pay by cheque. 

MS, Swansea.

A. Virgin Media responds that price increases were imposed at the beginning of April last year, and then again in February this year.

In addition, as you say, you added the Talk Mobile service to your service package.

"As with any price change, we notify affected customers in advance," adds a spokeswoman for Talk Mobile.

"Almost two months after the 2013 price change had come into effect, [the reader] contacted customer services. He was advised we could offer him an alternative package but this would re-contract him for 12 months. [The reader] declined this offer."

If you move to paying by cheque, the £5 charge per month still applies as it is imposed for not paying by direct debit.

Also, there is a £1.75 charge for posting statements.

Virgin Media's spokeswoman adds: "Our products and services offer the best value around, but we always contact customers two months ahead of any price changes in case they'd rather end their contract.

"There are all sorts of ways customers can save even more such as paying for a year's phone line rental upfront or using direct debit, which is a simple and reliable way to make regular payments.

"We apologise for not responding to [the reader's] questions within 28 days, and have applied a £20 gesture of goodwill."

While we understand your unhappiness at being charged extra for not paying by direct debit, this has become normal practice by telecoms and other utility companies.

Virgin Media tells us that you have decided not to request a paper bill, given the extra charge.

At odds with brother over mum's money

Q. My mother died last October in a nursing home. When she became unable to handle money or bills, my brother said he would handle this for her and opened a bank account for her in his name. My mother said she had made a will sharing a small amount of money between my brother and myself. My brother now insists there is no money. What do I do?

TO, England.

A. Your mother should have made out a Lasting Power of Attorney – LPA – as well as a will, says Gary Rycroft, a solicitor with Joseph A. Jones & Co in Lancaster.

"An LPA is a way of appointing a named person or persons – called an attorney – to make decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself," he explains. "If your mum had made an LPA, there would have been a named person or persons in place to step in to take over in the event of her losing capacity.

"The brother here had no legal authority to open a bank account for the purpose of holding monies on behalf of mum. Her monies should have remained in her bank account to be used for her benefit by the named attorney."

Where there is an LPA and the individual has lost mental capacity, the Office of the Public Guardian supervises the actions of the attorney and will investigate where improper action is suspected. It is surprising that your brother suggests that all your mother's money has been spent on her care.

"It is very unusual for there to be no money left on death," says Mr Rycroft. "When mum went into a care home, a financial assessment with the local authority should have been requested.

If her capital was in excess of £23,250 (including the value of her house), she would usually be expected to pay for her care in full, unless she qualified for NHS continuing care. If her capital was below £23,250, she should have been entitled to financial support from her local authority. If she had capital below £14,250, she would have been entitled to maximum support. When a care home resident dies there is often around £14,250 left over in terms of capital."

The situation now is difficult.

"The executors of mum's will have a legal duty to call in the assets of her estate and distribute the same to her beneficiaries," he went on. "It may be that the two brothers are the executors and beneficiaries. The brother who took control of mum's finances should be asked to produce a full copy of statements for her bank accounts and the account he opened to deal with her money and provide an explanation for every deposit and withdrawal."

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