Questions Of Cash: Phone company is so difficult to deal with


Q. My phone line was disconnected in July 2005 when I moved home - and Ntl phoned to confirm cancellation. Six months later my old landlord told me I was being pursued by Ntl for supposedly unpaid bills. I spoke to Ntl, with difficulty, and was told it would cancel the invoices.

Then in April last year, my landlord contacted me again to say bills were still coming and that a debt collector had been appointed. I ended up paying £140 which the debt collector asked for, just to put an end to this. I spoke to Ntl which denied the line had ever been terminated and has carried on sending me bills. XP, Harrow.

A. A spokesman for Ntl says "We have no notes to show the reader asked for the account to be terminated in July [2005] as he claims - but we have got a request marked in December. This would normally mean the money was indeed owed to us and he actually paid it to the debt collection agency. However, as there's ultimately no way of knowing exactly what has been said, we agreed in the past we are going to accept the reader's version of events and arrange a cheque to refund the payments he made."

Q. Ntl charged me £2 a month for a 'non-direct debit handling charge', which increased last June to £4. As I pay online, I successfully argued that this charge should be dropped as my method of payment is as cheap as direct debit. Ntl cancelled the charge by crediting my account with £2 a month. But when the charge went up to £4, the credit remained at £2. When I complained, the monthly £2 credit was removed as well. Dealing with Ntl is like nailing jelly to a wall. I know the money is small, but can you get this sorted out, because I can't? MS, by email.

A. It took us a few months of nagging to get this resolved. Ntl has now credited your account with the full disputed sum, and given you a further discount on your bill.

Q. I have moved house several times in recent years. Each time my mortgage broker has insisted I take out a new life insurance policy. I now have four policies and I'm not sure his advice was good, or which policy, or policies, to keep. I have policies with Norwich Union for £31.50 a month, Standard Life for £11.36 a month, Lloyds TSB at £11 a month and Scottish Widows at £10 a month. The balance on my mortgage is £55,600 and the property value is over £200,000. NB, Sussex.

A. Whether you are appropriately insured depends mostly on whether you have dependents and whether they are otherwise adequately protected. But, on the face of it, you look as if you are paying for more life assurance cover than you need. We offered to challenge your mortgage broker about the quality of advice provided and the commissions received, but you have declined to name the broker as he is "a friend".

We suggest you ask a reputable financial adviser to review your policies - and also take the opportunity to review your "friendships".

Q. After a lengthy complaints process that went to the Financial Ombudsman, we agreed a settlement with Barclays Bank about its sale of an endowment policy. We had a letter in July 2006 offering to pay £3,208.65, to be settled within four weeks. I wrote in September, and again in November, chasing the payment, but we still haven't received it. PB, Leamington Spa.

A. Barclays says its original payment went to the bank account named in the offer acceptance form. This had been closed when the credit was processed so the payment was returned to the bank. You have now been paid in full - and Barclays has sent you an extra £200 to compensate for the delays.

Q. Please advise what would be a good accessible ISA to use to save towards a deposit for a house.

If I open an account with £3,000 will I be liable for tax? If I save £300 per month from then, will I be subject to tax and is the tax year April to March? JC, by email.

A. Individual savings accounts are tax-free savings vehicles. You can save up to £7,000 in an ISA in any tax year - which runs from 6 April to the following 5 April. However, you can only invest up to £3,000 in a tax year in a cash ISA. You can invest a further £4,000 in a tax year in stocks and shares in an ISA.

To save for a home, you should use a cash ISA and avoid stocks and shares investments which require longer time horizons, suggests Philippa Gee, investments director at independent financial advisers Torquil Clark. She says: "You could invest £3,000 now and then start another account on 6 April with a monthly investment of up to £250."

Gee suggests putting the lump sum into National Savings & Investments, whose Direct ISA Account pays 5.8 per cent, or the Portman Building Society which has a 15-day notice account at 6.05 per cent. But best buys are subject to change, and you need to keep a close eye on rates.

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; cash@independent.co.uk.

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