Questions Of Cash: 'I was told to foot unpaid bill of shared house'


Q. I lived in a shared house in Brighton for two years until August 2010. None of us took overall responsibility for the bills, so we arranged with the electricity provider, Good Energy, to have four bills, for each person, or couple, living there.

In August last year, the landlord repossessed the house, after returning from several years abroad. In September I got a call from Good Energy saying there was an unpaid bill of £713.82 for the period June 2009 to August 2010. I agreed to pay my share of the bill, but not the rest. I then received a bill for the whole amount. I phoned Good Energy and was told I would have to prove that other people lived at the house. I agreed to send a list. Afterwards I was told that my share was £250.

When I made my own calculations I found my liability was £148.05. I then received a new bill for £174.60, for myself and one of the other tenants. I questioned this and was then told to pay £141, which I did by bank transfer. In May this year I received a notice demanding £229.62 within 14 days, or the company would take legal action. JP, Brighton.

A. Good Energy accepts that it made "key mistakes". It failed to apply your payment to the account, apparently because the payment was not accompanied by a reference number or other relevant details enabling the company to reconcile the payment with the account. As a result, it failed to remove your personal details from the account once that payment was made, despite you being promised in an email this would happen.

A new account was set up by Good Energy so that you could be treated differently to the other tenants, but you were not advised of this, nor were your details removed, as they should have been, when the new account was created. Instead, your name and address were shown as responsible for the bill. Good Energy apologises for these mistakes. It has now allocated your payment to the outstanding account and it accepts you have no responsibility for the balance.

A spokeswoman says: "[The reader] was an extremely helpful customer, providing useful information and prompt payment, and we have apologised for the failure which occurred at our end. We often have issues like this in shared properties, and have recently invested in new systems for logging and tracking customer requests which should ensure that this type of mistake will not recur in the future."

Q. I tried to transfer substantial funds from NatWest to Hargreaves Lansdown for investment in its fund supermarket using my Maestro debit card, after confirming with two NatWest employees that I could do this. I had performed similar transactions 11 months previously. I was not told of any potential problems with such a transfer. When I came to perform the transactions they failed.

It took four days before the transaction could be processed, by which time the FTSE 100 had risen by over 2 per cent and the delay cost me about £10,000. NatWest says the problem relates to a limit on how much I can transfer via my Maestro debit card. But it is unable to tell me how much this limit is. DW, West Midlands.

A. You raised this matter with us in March of last year. We immediately contacted Hargreaves Lansdown – which quickly replied to explain that it was not responsible for the problems – and RBS, which has only now provided us with a substantive response, despite numerous reminders. The transaction dates back to October 2009, when you sought to buy a very large amount of unit trusts. The transaction was blocked, despite you having sufficient funds in your account for the payment to clear.

You were forced to refer the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service while we trying to resolve it, because of the impending deadline for complaints. FOS ruled in favour of RBS and accepted its argument that delays were caused by the bank making anti-fraud checks and that these checks were reasonable.

An RBS statement said: "This case was referred to the Financial Ombudsman who ruled in February 2011 that NatWest had neither made errors which led to losses for [the reader] nor misled him. We are sorry that [the reader] has elected not to accept the findings of the Ombudsman but are satisfied that there is no claim to answer." RBS says that transactions such as this should be conducted by the CHAPS electronic payments system and that if you had elected to use this, it would have waived any fee. You say that RBS failed to advise you of this before the transaction.

Q. In 2006, Abbey accidentally associated my address with the account of someone else with a similar name, who was £408.66 overdrawn. I lived near High Wycombe and the other person had at address in Stourport-on-Severn, but we both had "Deedsafe" accounts. My branch realised there had been a mistake and promised it would be resolved.

I heard nothing more until January 2009 when I received a letter from the Abbey informing me that my debt had been transferred to their debt factoring company, Lowell Portfolio Ltd. I also received a letter from Lowell telling me to pay the debt, which now stood at £326.26. I was then living abroad, so going to the branch was not possible. After much inconvenience and expense with international phone calls, I received a letter from the Abbey apologising, saying the debt agency had been notified and the situation would be investigated.

I heard no more until now, when I have received another demand from Lowell. Lowell tell me it will remove me from their records, but I have no confidence this will happen. SE, High Wycombe.

A. A spokeswoman for Santander, which acquired Abbey, apologises and says: "We have contacted Lowell Portfolio Ltd and they have updated their records accordingly. To acknowledge the inconvenience caused we have sent [the reader] a cheque for £75 as a gesture of goodwill." Santander promises you will not be contacted again.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@ independent.co.uk.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

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