Questions Of Cash: 'What should I do with my worthless shares?'

Q. Several years ago, I bought some shares in a company called Ninth Floor plc. This subsequently became Farsight plc. Shares in this company were suspended in 2006. Can you discover any information about this company and provide guidance to shareholders about what they should do in this situation? At what point does Farsight plc get written off – allowing the losses to be offset against capital gains tax? I'm not sure what to do with my share certificate. This company doesn't seem to have appeared on the list of companies of negligible value for tax purposes. MH, by email.

A. Ninth Floor acquired the company Farsight, provider of security equipment, in 2000. In October of that year, the parent company delisted from the London Stock Exchange, moving to the LSE's Alternative Investment Market. This enabled Ninth Floor to list its subsidiary company, Swansea Football Club, on the AIM and sell it. Ninth Floor was known in a previous incarnation as the Silver Shield Group, the operations of which were sold to Kwik-Fit. It has also been known as Edgestake. Farsight's listing on the AIM was cancelled in March 2007. A company called Farsight Security Systems continues to operate from Peterborough, where director Rob Moore said: "People involved with the plc have had nothing to do with this company for a number of years." He referred enquiries about Farsight plc to Stephen Mundy, a director at Morgan LaRoche solicitors. Mr Mundy failed to return our calls. Companies House records show Farsight PLC as having been dissolved last year.

Leonie Kerswill, a tax partner at Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, explains: "Where shares become of negligible value (which HMRC defines as "worth next to nothing") the taxpayer can make a claim so that he is treated as if he had sold the shares and immediately reacquired them. There's no time limit and no specific form needed, so the claim can either be on the face of the tax return or by letter. The capital loss is treated as arising when the claim is made. Alternatively, the taxpayer can opt for some other date within two years before the date of the claim provided that, at that earlier time, they owned the shares and they had already become of negligible value. If the taxpayer subscribed for the now worthless shares, then provided that the company is an unquoted trading company it may be possible to set the loss against income rather than capital gains."

Q. I was very interested to read the complaint from an Aviva customer whose 25-year endowment matured with a smaller payout than he expected (Questions of Cash, 1 August). Aviva sent me a letter dated 4 July stating that "the current surrender value, as at today's date, is £17,441.48". On this basis, I surrendered it. Two weeks later, Aviva paid me £16,158.95. Aviva then told me that final bonus rates altered on 1 July, but staff had sent the letter on 4 July "not having corrected for the new final bonus rate". Surely that is their error, and they owe me a further £1,282.53? AP, Dorking.

A. We are very sympathetic to your argument, but getting additional payment from Aviva has been hard work. Aviva argues that the valuation sent to you on 4 July was "a non-guaranteed surrender value" and that it is not obliged to pay you this. When we initially contacted Aviva it agreed to make you a goodwill payment of £100. That seemed insufficient, so we asked Aviva to look again at the case. It then agreed to pay you £250. This still seemed inadequate. We consulted with the Financial Ombudsman Service to ask how it would adjudicate in a case such as this. The FOS told us that it was unlikely to uphold in your favour as the amount quoted had been non-guaranteed, unless you had made specific financial commitments based on the expectation of receiving the full amount. In fact, you had agreed for the first time in your life to buy a new car following notification of the intended payout, a commitment of £13,190. We explained this to Aviva, which again reconsidered your case with the result that it has agreed a further goodwill payment of £350. In addition, the chief executive of Aviva has sent you a letter of apology. While you have not received everything you felt you were owed, you are now £600 better off – which is nearly half the difference between the quote and the actual payment you received. You have willingly accepted this.

Q. I am unhappy with how Tiscali deals with the accounts of deceased subscribers. The maiden aunt of my wife died on Easter Monday. I am an executor of her estate. She owed money to Tiscali. I was wrongly told by my bank that existing direct debits from her account would continue. I tried to speak to Tiscali about the debt, but because I am not the account holder, it refused to discuss it with me. Tiscali continued to send bills, statements and letters to my deceased aunt and then left a message on her answerphone requiring her to contact them to make payments. I phoned again, but still Tiscali refused to deal with me – unless I was prepared to make a payment, in which case it didn't seem to matter who I was. I then wrote to Tiscali as executor saying I was going to charge it £50 for the cost of administration in dealing with the company and, on this basis, there was no balance outstanding on the account. All the other utility companies agreed to deal with me after I phoned to explain the situation. Tiscali has threatened court action, but this is apparently now on hold. The experience would be very upsetting for someone who was widowed. IB, Dereham.

A. Tiscali has now written off the outstanding balance. We also asked the company if, in the light of your experience, it was going to change its procedures where a customer dies. We did not receive a reply.

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