Questions Of Cash: Lost in the post - so who should pay?

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The Independent Online

I have had to buy more equipment in the UK at nearly twice the price. Parcelforce says there is nothing it can do and that it is for the sender to claim for the parcel. But I don't believe my uncle will have kept any receipts to enable him to make a claim, and I am now travelling in Europe, only contactable by e-mail, and in no position to sort this out.
CL, by e-mail.

A. Normally it would be the responsibility of the sender to lodge a claim - in your uncle's case with the US postal service he used, which would then make a claim against Royal Mail (which owns Parcelforce).

He could make a claim even if he has not kept the postal receipt, because the package will have been tracked electronically. In this instance, however, Royal Mail has agreed to contact you directly to short-cut matters and process the claim. Royal Mail will recompense you with the cost of the replacement goods, rather than the lower cost of the original items that were actually lost, so you should not be out of pocket.

Q. I worked for a company until last November, with a contract to be paid monthly. The company ran into financial problems and did not pay my August salary until mid-September, and did not pay my October salary. I resigned in November and was assured I would be paid "soon".

In March I was paid £1,842 and in April £1,000, but I am still owed nearly £6,000. I understand six existing employees have not been paid in full, yet the two directors have gone to a trade show in Los Angeles. Isn't insolvent trading illegal?
KS, Berkshire.

A. "It is clear that there is a contractual entitlement for you to be paid your salary, and this is something which you can sue the company for," says William Ellerton, of Bevans solicitors.

"To calculate the precise amount due you should check the terms of the contract, including any notice period. If you suspect that the company cannot pay its debts you could petition for the company to be wound up which - if the order is granted - will result in a liquidator being appointed.

"Under the Insolvency Act a liquidator can, in the course of winding up, apply for an order that a director or shadow director makes a contribution to the company's assets on the basis that the company continued trading beyond the point when the director should have concluded that there was no reasonable prospect of avoiding insolvent liquidation.

"The threat of a winding-up petition and the possibility of an order that there has been wrongful trading may prompt the company to do all it can to pay this debt."

Q. My wife was sold an endowment policy and wishes to pursue a claim against Standard Life on the basis of promises made verbally. What is the Financial Ombudsman's position regarding recollections of verbal comments? And what is the status of Standard Life's "mortgage promise", which appeared to be a guarantee?
DM, by e-mail.

A. Formally, the Financial Ombudsman Service takes into consideration representations by consumers alleging verbal promises made during the process of selling an endowment. But in practice, the FOS regards most such comments as just being sales hype and not part of the contract. It is the written contract - including any calculations made by sales staff - which will normally decide the outcome of a complaint.

Standard Life points out that its "endowment promise" was never described as a "guarantee", and was always hedged with caveats about only applying if there was growth in Standard Life's assets. As it turns out, its asset base has not grown since the promise was made in September 2000, so the promise may not turn out to be of value for many customers.

"We have said that we can no longer afford to set aside provisions on the basis we were," says a Standard Life spokesman. While the £393m initially set aside to help meet customers' shortfalls is not being used for other purposes, it is now recognised that this will not be adequate to meet all shortfalls.

From 2006 customers facing shortfalls arising from poor endowment performance will receive a diminishing level of financial support from Standard Life.

Q. I was assured by Abbey I'd be able to pay money into last year's individual savings allowance, only to be told on the deadline day - 5 April - this wasn't possible. By then it was too late to make alternative arrangements. It has taken Abbey eight weeks to transfer my ISA from Northern Rock, without any explanation. Nor have I received any assurances that my interest will not suffer as a result.
SD, London.

A. Abbey says the fault for missing the deadline lies with you in not providing a valid form of payment within the last tax year. Consequently, your payment into your ISA had to be counted in the current year. But Abbey accepts that it is responsible for delays in transferring your ISA from Northern Rock.

While Abbey received your transfer request on 14 April, it did not pass this on to Northern Rock until 19 May.

It says that a further four weeks' delay was caused by you failing to give Northern Rock your passbook. Interest has been added to the balance of your account, by Abbey, for the period between 14 April and 19 May, in recognition of its slow handling of your paperwork.

Q. My mother will not make a will - she does not want to "waste money on solicitors". She says her assets should be shared between my sister and me. What is the process if she dies intestate?
CC, Exeter.

A. "A grant of letters of administration may have to be obtained from the Probate Registry," says Stephen Pallister, the tax and trust partner at the solicitors Charles Russell. "The grant is similar to the grant of probate you apply for where there is a will. Assuming your father has died, you and your sister will be entitled equally to your mother's estate as is laid out in the intestacy rules.

"You both will also be the people entitled to apply for the grant. But it will save costs and make it easier for you in administering her estate if she does make a will."

Q. Are all capital gains subject to tax? Surely I don't have to pay the full 40 per cent on every single penny of profit I make on an investment?
DP, Edinburgh.

A. All investors are entitled to make a certain amount of capital gains each year without paying any tax at all - the CGT allowance in the current tax year is £8,500.

Even profits above this amount won't necessarily be taxable. There are all sorts of reliefs you can claim to reduce the final tax bill on a capital gain. Assets that have been held for several years, for example, are subject to lower rates of tax.

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