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Questions Of Cash: Vodafone plays it hard to get

Q. My wife had to go to South America on an urgent trip and forgot to notify Vodafone. When she did advise Vodafone, there was no reply for three months. Then Credit Solutions, a debt collector, wrote to her on behalf of Vodafone claiming £170.

Eventually, I gave this company my wife's phone number - and it kept phoning her in the middle of the night. To stop this, I paid the money by cash into a NatWest account in August of last year, but Vodafone claims not to have received it - although it left my account at the beginning of September. I supplied Vodafone and Credit Solutions with a copy of the transaction details, but to no effect.

DS, by e-mail

A.< We have spent months trying to get Vodafone to sort out this matter/b>. In October, Vodafone told us that it was in the process of resolving this, but then failed to keep us informed. Now it says that it will only discuss the matter with your wife personally - even though she is still in South America.

A spokeswoman for Vodafone says: "Our customers expect Vodafone to take proper care of the personal details on their account and, in particular, not to discuss those personal details with anyone else without their authorisation. Vodafone has therefore implemented stringent security checks and processes, which our customer management team follow, to ensure that they are speaking to the right person about the right account. These processes have been developed over time to address the genuine privacy concerns of our customers."

We can only suggest that you and your wife now take up your complaint with Otelo, the telephone ombudsman to which Vodafone belongs. Its contact number is 0845 050 1614 and the web address is www.otelo.org.uk.

Q. I recently received a cheque in euros from France. My bank, Abbey, told me that I had to complete a special form, which I had to chase the bank three times to obtain.

Abbey's covering letter explained that cheques can be paid by collection or negotiation, and that collection can take up to eight weeks before the money is paid into my account, whereas negotiation takes about five working days.

I requested negotiation, and sent off the cheque and form on 29 November. When I asked, weeks later, why it had not been paid into my account, Abbey said that the cheque had been sent to its head office and this could take six to eight weeks to process.

I find it staggering that a bank can take this long to clear a cheque in a major European currency.
RL, by e-mail

A. The clearance of euro cheques is a serious weakness across most of the UK banking industry. Sandra Quinn, spokeswoman for Apacs, the UK payments association, explains: "Unfortunately, your reader was told exactly what I would expect her to be told. There is no cross-border cheque clearing system, partly because, as many countries don't use cheques, there's no demand for it. Cheques received in the UK from a bank overseas are generally sent for collection, which is a manual process whereby the bank you have paid the cheque into sends it back to the foreign bank and gets it to send the money back. As the process relies on the foreign bank dealing promptly with the request and sending funds to a bank it may not know, it can be lengthy.

"The customer only gets the funds at the end of the process, which can take six to eight weeks. The 'negotiation' process means that the UK bank will provide you with funds immediately but on the basis that if you use them, and the cheque turns out to be a dud, it's at your risk."

Abbey says that in your case, although you believed the cheque was being cleared by negotiation, it was actually cleared by collection. Clearance by negotiation is made at Abbey's discretion, as is made clear in its terms, it says. However, Abbey accepts that its service to you was poor and has sent you a goodwill payment of £100.

Q. I booked a flight with easyJet and, through its website, car hire with Europcar, paying a deposit of £132 using a debit card. But when we went to collect the car in Pisa, Europcar refused to release it, saying that only a credit card was acceptable. We don't have one. EasyJet says the booking form made it clear that only a credit card would do, and won't release the deposit. We argued, in vain, that in the UK, it is common to use the term "credit cards" to include debit cards.
JB, Taunton

A. EasyJet now accepts that the terms and conditions are not sufficiently clear - they are being rewritten - and has returned your deposit.