Questions of Cash: I got a sinking feeling over my kitchen subsidence claim


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The Independent Online

Q. I made a claim for subsidence damage in September last year to Sainsbury's Bank on my home insurance policy. My kitchen floor is sinking, which its surveyor said was damage caused by washing the floor! Five months later nothing has happened, apart from a promise that my collapsing house will be "monitored".

I was unable to safely walk on my kitchen floor or use it. I had to replace the floor and install a new kitchen. Sainsbury's suggested I removed trees and vegetation from my garden at a cost of £700. In all, I've spent £6,000 on repairs, paying a surveyor and removing the vegetation, but cracks in my wall, inside and outside, are getting bigger. The ash tree that I believe is causing the problem remains just 3ft from my house. The local council has no intention of removing it, unless persuaded to do so by an insurer. VB, London.

A. Sainsbury's has now repaid you the £700 for the vegetation removal, but is not convinced the damage to your kitchen floor was caused by subsidence rather than what it refers to as "decomposition". It will, though, continue to monitor the subsidence and pay for remedial work when it stabilises.

Subsidence problems are notoriously difficult to deal with and can involve long-term disruption. Sainsbury's has now put a loss adjuster in contact with you and you will need to persuade the adjuster that the kitchen damage was caused by subsidence.

The loss adjuster is appointed by the insurer to represent their interests. Given the potentially very large size of your claim, you might consider appointing a loss assessor to represent your own interests in negotiations with the loss adjuster and insurer. The Institute of Public Loss Assessors publishes a list of members, available at

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's Bank says: "We have confirmed with [the reader] that we are monitoring the subsidence on her property and will carry out remedial works as soon as it is deemed as being stable. We have also thoroughly investigated the damage to her kitchen floor and advised that this is likely to have been caused by decomposition and is not related to the subsidence."

One other point though: in your initial correspondence to Sainsbury's Bank you told it that you were referring your problem to this column on the basis of a claimed, but false, personal association with the column's author as a "neighbour". This column is happy to take on readers' problems – and there is no need to falsely claim a personal connection to do so.

Q. You took up my case [Questions of Cash, 23 February] after I transferred my energy supplies from First Utility to Npower. Npower then failed to debit my bank account with the correct amounts. I was promised – and you reported – that this had been sorted out and I would in future be charged the correct amounts.

But my debit on 1 March was again wrong and I paid £120 too little. I needed to get the payments fully up to date to move onto Npower's agreed monthly tariff. I explained this in a letter to Npower on 14 March, sent with a cheque for £120, cashed by Npower almost two weeks later. Now I find that Npower has not operated the direct debit for April, which means I am in arrears yet again. I am at a loss what to do next. JC, Ayrshire.

A. We are promised – again – that the matter is now resolved. A very apologetic spokesman for Npower says: "It appears the original payment arrangement was set up with an instalment plan. However, when the instalment plan was cancelled the direct debit should have been cancelled and reset, which it wasn't. This has now been completely cancelled and we've spoken to [the reader] as well as offering him a £50 goodwill gesture."

Q. I have spent nearly two years trying to locate my Isa that was held with Santander. This contained my life savings. I have phoned, sent letters and emails and visited a Santander branch, obtained information from other banks and took my complaint to the Financial Ombudsman.

Santander eventually "found" my Isa and wrote to apologise – but this was an apology only in the sense that it contained the word "apologise", saying that I "had difficulty locating" my account. It said the possible reason it took so long to find it is because "your account is held on a separate system". There is no mention of compensation, despite the stress I was caused. AF, Hampshire.

A. Santander is not providing compensation because it does not accept it has done anything wrong. A spokeswoman says: "There has been no Santander error in this case. [The reader] requested the closure and transfer of his Santander Isa in June 2007. Confirmation of this was provided to [the reader] and to the Financial Ombudsman Service, who upheld our decision to decline his complaint."

Q. In your column last Saturday a reader wrote about the "former Leeds Building Society". I have been a customer of the Leeds Building Society for years and I've always been impressed with its service. I think your reader means the Leeds Permanent Building Society, which got swallowed up by the Halifax. IC, by email.

A. You are absolutely correct. The reader was referring to the former Leeds Permanent Building Society, called "the Leeds" and at the time one of the UK's largest building societies. It merged with the Halifax in 1995 and shortly after the enlarged society converted to a plc. The smaller Leeds and Holbeck Building Society later changed its name to the Leeds Building Society and remains an independent and successful society.

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