Questions of cash: My unreasonable bank is giving me an identity crisis

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I was asked to be a cheque signatory by my housing co-op. I presented myself at my bank branch (having banked there for 25 years and been with the same bank for 40 years) to prove my identity.

I was asked to be a cheque signatory by my housing co-op. I presented myself at my bank branch (having banked there for 25 years and been with the same bank for 40 years) to prove my identity. I showed my birth certificate, council tax payment booklet, British Rail pass as a retired person and British Library ticket with photo. None was accepted and I do not drive or have a passport. I cannot sign cheques for my housing co-operative. JJ, London.

Your bank is being unreasonable and has failed to comply with the British Bankers' Association rules on money-laundering. They require that a bank "knows its customers", and any bank should know a customer after 40 years. Banks are expected to apply the rules reasonably. This applies whether an individual is opening an account or applying to be a cheque signatory for an organisation's account. The bank should accept a letter from the co-op as landlord, they should check the electoral roll and, perhaps, your pension book or pension correspondence. Contact a senior person in the bank and demand they change their procedures.

Being over 50, I thought of moving to a Saga credit card which provides a photo on the card and a free internet fraud guarantee covering theft from the Visa account. Most fraudsters trying to use such a credit card with my photo as an elderly gent might think twice. Is Saga alone in offering these options? JH, by e-mail.

Two card issuers in the UK provide Visa cards with the holder's photo, Royal Bank of Scotland and Frizzell (which issues Saga's cards). A free internet fraud guarantee is of limited, if any, value. Under the Consumer Credit Act, only the first £50 of a fraud is the liability of the card-holder, providing the card issuer is promptly notified of loss of the card. Under industry codes of practice, banks accept the full financial liability of fraudulent use.

I'm self-employed, with an annual net profit of £30,000, which I hope to raise to £40,000. I've been told I'd be better off incorporating as a company, with more generous pension allowances using stakeholder rather than a personal pension, and lower tax bills, with profits taxed as dividends not pay. Is this correct? NG, Lewisham.

The leading tax expert, John Whiting, of accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers, says: "Whether to incorporate a small business is a question all owners need to address. There are many factors, including whether you want the bother of running a company.

"Taxwise, a company may show savings. You can leave some profits in the company, subject to corporation tax, rather than take all of them as they arise and get them taxed as you do with self-employment," he said. "But you'll want to take them out of the company at some stage and you must think about the impact of national insurance contributions (NICs), which are 11.9 per cent on a company salary. Paying yourself via dividends means no NICs but do not be caught by the IR35 rules.

"As for pensions, you have the allowance as an individual and can have a stakeholder pension in either guise. There may be the possibility of company contributions to a pension fund. This is not an easy question but profits of £40,000 to £50,000 would make it worth looking at, bearing in mind the extra costs of running a company to be funded out of tax savings."

With the big increase British Gas is passing to customers, can I buy my gas cheaper elsewhere. Is there a single source that will tell me this? HB, Rutland.

Several websites provide this information for gas and electricity. Go to, website of the energy regulator, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, and examine the EnergyWatch comparator of all 10 domestic energy suppliers. MoneyNet reports one London user saving £250 a year by switching suppliers.

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