Questions Of Cash: IT chaos causes misery for NU customers

Q. I have a similar problem with Norwich Union to that of RS (Questions of Cash, 31 May). My policy matured on 1 May, yet despite all documentation being on time, I heard nothing from NU. I phoned NU on 10 May and it said it had a backlog. It says the only compensation I will get is interest at 3.75 per cent gross – well below the rate of funds on deposit. Eventually I received the payment, but without any explanation for the delay. KR, by email.

Q. I have had a very similar problem with Norwich Union. On 2 May, I was asked by NU for documentation so it could pay me before my policy matures. NU admitted receiving the documents back on 6 May. But my payment did not arrive on the maturity date, and I am still waiting. NU has known for 25 years that it would have to make these payments on these dates – why hasn't it planned for this? BB, by email.

A. NU admits it has what David Heslop, its director of business development, calls "some backlog problems". It updated its IT systems earlier this year, but this led to implementation problems. As a result, a large number of policies maturing in April and May this year were not processed as expected. Heslop says that NU also had difficulties in predicting the speed with which customers would return policy documentation. Problems were exacerbated by an unexpectedly high rate of staff sickness. It has now recruited extra staff and has eliminated the backlog in processing the paperwork, though not yet of the payments.

Our reader BB has been sent a goodwill payment of £50, plus added interest, and our reader KR £30, plus interest. NU apologises to all affected customers.

Q. In February last year, my name was added to an Orange internet account in place of the previous tenant and I have paid the account by direct debit ever since. In June last year, I moved out of the student homes I was in and asked Orange to close the account. Repeated requests to Orange have been unsuccessful and it is continuing to take direct debit deductions from my account. It now owes me £179.90. AF, Edinburgh.

A. Your complaint has sparked several weeks of increasingly irritated communications between Orange and ourselves. Orange can find no trace of your requests to cancel your account and insisted that without the written authority of the person you replaced on the account, it was unable to close it. This seemed to us completely bureaucratic and unnecessary, as you were paying the bill. Eventually, we managed to put Orange in verbal contact with the previous tenant, which Orange accepted as authority to close the account. It then demanded proof of when your tenancy finished, as a substitute for any record of your request to close the account. It contacted you directly, offering to repay £100, which you accepted. If you had asked our advice, we would have suggested you held out for the full amount you believe was overpaid. We also made the point very forcefully to Orange – as we have done repeatedly in this column in recent months – that it must invest in better customer services to improve its customer relations. We are pleased that, coincidentally, it has since announced that it is to employ an extra 500 staff to improve its customer relations service. We hope this will mark a reduction in the number of complaints we receive about Orange.

Q. My mother's house is about to be sold for £115,000 less fees. She has moved into a nursing home after suffering a stroke. She wishes to leave her one-year-old grandson a financial gift and contribute towards building work that will give her greater wheelchair access to our house so she can spend more time with us. What is she allowed to spend or give away of her money? I know that she has to pay for her nursing home herself until she has less than £21,000 in savings. But I don't understand the "deprivation of assets" rules – I am told that the local authority could take action if she is deemed to have taken action to avoid paying her care-home fees. JR, by email.

A. Giles Garlick, consultant at PKF Financial Planning, explains: "If assets are given away or otherwise disposed of in order that an individual is then in a more favourable position to obtain local authority assistance with care-home fees, the local authority may be able to assess the individual as still "retaining" the assets. Department of Health guidelines to local authorities suggest that the timing and motive behind the transfer should be taken into account. On the basis of the specific examples given, it is probable that a modest financial gift to the grandson would not breach the guidelines, assuming that the intention was not deliberately to avoid paying care-home fees. It is possible that a contribution to the reader's building work could be viewed less favourably because, although a by-product of the work would be greater wheelchair access to the house, there is no intention for the mother to live in the property and it may be questioned, given her illness, as to how frequently she would be a visitor. It is important to note that the local social security office can also consider whether assets were disposed of deliberately in order to qualify for means-tested benefits, such as pension credit. From April 2008, the capital threshold has increased to £22,250."

Q. I have been told by a call operator at the Halifax that I have overpaid my mortgage account by £6,569.94, but I do not understand why and the operator told me that I won't get the money back. RS, London.

A. In March 2003, you made a part-repayment of £6,520 on your mortgage account. This was not an overpayment. However, Halifax made an internal administrative error in how it applied this money to your mortgage account. It assures us that this has not put you at any financial disadvantage – but it appears to have confused its own staff about this case – and they, in turn, confused you. It apologises.

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