Questions Of Cash: 'I was still waiting for 3 to pay my refund, four months later'

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The Independent Online

Even financial journalists hit problems that appear to be intractable - until we declare who we are. This is my experience.

I took out a mobile phone contract with 3 in April. A software failure on the free Nokia handset prevented it being used outside the UK. I had already made a £250 pre-payment to allow it to be used internationally.

The handset was returned within the 14-day trial period, during which the contract could be terminated free of charge. The shop arranged for the pre-payments to be refunded.

I spoke to 3 from the shop, who told me the repayment would be processed quickly. I made repeated phone calls to 3, was always promised repayment, but it never came.

When I timed one of the calls, it took 30 minutes - and I estimate I was on the phone for two hours over a four-month period trying to recover my money. On 20 July, I was told £18 was in the post and the £250 would follow "in a matter of days - it's in progress".

When I phoned a month later to ask where my money was, I was not given any explanation, but told a new request would be submitted to the payments department and only they could make a decision on making a repayment. I gave up at this point, deciding that as a consumer I was getting nowhere.

Having spent two hours as a consumer on the phone over four months, it took just one phone call to 3 as a journalist for the matter to be sorted out in two hours. The £250 cheque arrived less than a week later.

"Due to an administration error at the point of sale, the refund was not logged with 3 within the 14-day period," 3 said. "This error led to a delay in the refund. 3 has a straightforward 14-day money-back guarantee process. In this instance, the refund wasn't processed in the usual way and we apologise."

However, 3 was unable to say why this explanation was not provided in the calls made to its customer service centre. I calculated my bill for phoning 3's customer service number was likely to be in the region of £10.

Readers have made similar complaints about 3 and other mobile phone providers. We are keen to hear the experience of readers, particularly regarding the speed of repayment of deposits and processing cancelled contracts.

Q. For the past 10 years I have been giving my grandchildren birthday presents of investments in government stocks. At first I did this through the Post Office and, when this arrangement was terminated, I bought gilts directly from the Bank of England Registrar's Department at Gloucester, which provided purchase forms on its website.

Last year this responsibility was passed to Computershare Investment Services. But Computershare will not allow stock purchases in the name of a minor.

AW, Southampton.

A. Computershare undertakes this function on behalf of the Government's Debt Management Office (DMO), which has spent several weeks considering this issue. It has now agreed that investors will be allowed to purchase gilts on behalf of minors, provided you are a member of the DMO's approved group of investors and you are able to supply proof of the identity of your grandchildren.

Q. I am having problems with TSP (The Softback Preview) - a book club. I am being pursued for £23.39, but I cancelled my membership in March because I had not ordered or received any books since I joined at the beginning of last year. A local carrier tried to deliver two books after I had cancelled, but I would not accept them.
JD, Preston.

A. TSP is part of Book Club Associates (see Questions of Cash, 30 July, 2005). BCA has agreed to credit your account to cancel the bills for the refused books and the late payment charges. Your account has now been cleared.

Standard Life has made changes to the calculation of benefits on my endowment policy, the performance of which I was already unhappy with. I feel this changes the terms on which I took out the policy.
SB, Leeds.

A. Standard Life has phased out the element of its pay-out known as "the benefits of mutuality". It claims that it has always made clear that these are discretionary payments, dependent on its investment returns.

It's worth pointing out that Standard Life has suffered more than some other insurers from the downturn in share values. It is now preparing to demutualise and float on the stock market.

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