Questions Of Cash: 'I went hungry when A&L bungled my wage cheque'

Q I paid a wage cheque for £600 into my Alliance & Leicester bank account in early April. A mistake in the branch caused this amount to be shown on my account as a debit instead of a credit. This took me £500 above my agreed overdraft limit and access to my account was suspended. I had to cancel an arranged trip out and I was unable to buy food. My A&L branch promised to sort out the problem immediately, but failed to do so. I had to obtain a copy of my wages cheque to re-credit the account and it was only then that the original cheque was "found" by A&L. I asked for compensation of £250, but A&L will only pay me £50. I had to spend a day without food because of A&L's mistakes, missed a trip out and had other inconvenience, so I think £50 is inadequate. PC, Brecon.

A You deposited your wages cheque in an A&L branch using an ATM that accepts deposits. However, the machine could not read the figure on the cheque, so you had to enter the amount and this was verified by a branch official. At the end of the day, the branch found a discrepancy between the value of the cheque and the value entered. The branch should have amended the amount recorded as deposited, but instead debited the amount in error – causing your account to overdraw. We think this mistake reflects very badly on A&L. A&L apologises, promises to ensure that you are at no financial loss and has paid £50 into your account as a gesture of goodwill. We fully support your view that this is inadequate. Unfortunately, a key member of A&L staff had to suddenly go on leave because of a personal emergency, causing the handling of our complaint on your behalf to be delayed. You have understandably become fed-up waiting for A&L to propose a more appropriate offer and have taken the matter to the Ombudsman. We are therefore unable to pursue the matter further, but A&L is required to abide by the Ombudsman's decision. We get a large number of complaints about the A&L. It will be interesting to see whether Abbey's takeover of A&L will improve things – the other bank we receive a disproportionately high number of complaints against is Abbey.

Q I have had an account with the Charities Aid Foundation for more than seven years, using it to distribute over £5,000 to charities. Recently I have used the account less, because with Gift Aid there is less reason to use this service. I was surprised to receive a letter from CAF saying that as I haven't used my account since March 2007, if I don't contact them soon, they will distribute the money in my account as they think fit. Do they have the right to confiscate my money in this way? SR, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

A Once money is deposited in a CAF account, it is unable to return funds to a client under requirements imposed by HM Revenue & Customs. CAF's terms and conditions specify: "In opening a CAF Charity Account the donated funds are given to CAF in their entirety. The CAF trustees will distribute these funds among such charities as the donor shall from time to time direct or, where ongoing direction ceases, as the trustees shall in their absolute discretion determine." CAF were therefore acting in compliance with their obligations. A CAF spokeswoman adds: "Because the money has been irrevocably earmarked to go to charity, CAF encourages account holders to issue instructions so that we can pass the money to charities of their choice, rather than leave the money sitting in accounts. When an account appears to become inactive we write to the account holder about the current status and their intentions. It is rare not to hear back from donors and when this happens we often lose touch completely. In these circumstances we seek to pass the balance on to charities through our grant programme, rather than leaving it in limbo." However, CAF accepts that it too readily assumed you were not giving it directions on what to do with the balance on your account and that it should give clients longer to respond. CAF's spokeswoman says it "will change our procedures in the light of this experience".

Q We went to Majorca at the end of July. We visited Marineland just outside Palma, which cost €60 for a family ticket, paying by Sainsbury's Visa card. When I put in my PIN number it was rejected. I was taken to another booth to use a different machine and this went through. I still have both receipts – the first says the transaction is invalid. But two entries for the €60 were shown on my statement. I contacted Sainsbury credit card centre and they said it was nothing to do with them and I would have to contact Marineland myself. KR, by email.

A Sainsbury's Bank was wrong to ask you to resolve this with Marineland: it should have asked you to supply copies of the receipts and then resolved the matter itself. It has now credited the €60 to your account. It is also crediting your account with £10 as a goodwill gesture.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. Please do not send original documents. Write to: Questions of Cash, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS;

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