Q. I am 26, a bond trader, earn a good income and live within my means. I live in rented accommodation and have no debts and several thousand pounds in savings. But during my late teens and early twenties I frequently went overdrawn. I also had a joint mortgage with Nationwide for a year and was sometimes late making payment. I split with my partner and the mortgage was repaid in full.
Since then I have been in regular employment and had bank accounts with Nationwide and First Direct for almost 10 years. I have asked both Nationwide and First Direct for a debit card to replace the cash cards I currently use and both have declined. I have also been declined by Barclays and Cahoot.
As I have to entertain clients and travel abroad on business this is causing me increasing problems. I have not requested a credit card as I assume that this will be refused too. How can I can improve my credit rating?
A. You need to access your credit reference files to find out more details on your credit status. The main agencies are Experian (0870 241 6212), Equifax (0845 600 1772) and Call Credit (0870 060 1414). This should help you determine which factors in your past are damaging your current credit status.
You may then wish to challenge these reports - for example, by inserting the explanation that mortgage repayment problems were caused by your ex-partner. If you are having difficulty with your existing bank and building society - and Nationwide did not respond to our requests for advice on what you should do - then you might consider approaching a larger number of other banks and building societies. Several credit card issuers are more relaxed about providing cards where their interest rates are much higher - but this is unlikely to concern you if you are paying off your account in full each month. Mike Naylor, a principal researcher at Which? magazine adds that making sure you are on the electoral register "does help significantly". Naylor suggests you ask the banks why they have turned you down and respond by providing evidence of your income.
Q. I signed up to a broadband internet plus telephone calls package with Tiscali in October. Unresolved technical problems meant I was unable to access broadband, despite repeated calls to Tiscali. As the service was not working, I cancelled the direct debit paying for broadband. I continued to receive bills from Tiscali for the full amount, including the unreceived broadband service. But it refused to send an amended bill and asked for payment in full, from which it would send me a refund. Just before Christmas it blocked outgoing calls on my phone. I demanded reinstatement of the line and an adjusted bill for me to pay for my phone calls only. Tiscali declined, saying I could either pay the full amount, including money I didn't owe, have my phone switched back on, and wait for a refund after Christmas, or wait a couple of weeks for my bill to be amended, and, meanwhile, be unable to make outgoing calls. I paid the full amount, but I am still awaiting the refund. I have now cancelled the Tiscali subscription.
AB, by e-mail.
A. Tiscali has promised to urgently send you repayment in full for the overpaid sum.
Q. Last December I had my purse stolen. I wasn't aware of it until three hours later, when I placed a stop on my HSBC credit and debit cards. By then the thieves had withdrawn cash from the ATM and made purchases on my debit card. They attempted to gain access to my credit card but were unsuccessful. I lost around £1,200. I found that a shopkeeper rejected one transaction because he was highly suspicious of his customers' behaviour - also because my English name on the card and the customers' accents didn't match. HSBC will not reimburse around £1,000. It argues that I'm guilty of gross negligence and that I must have had the PIN written down. I have never written down PINs.
A. HSBC has agreed to refund a further £524. However, the bank is not prepared to refund the cash withdrawals of £300. HSBC points out that these withdrawals, which happened within minutes of your card being stolen, could only have been made with knowledge of the PIN. The thieves used the correct PIN at the first attempt.
There are other explanations why thieves might have learnt your PIN, without you writing it down. They might have watched a transaction from a few days previously and stolen your cards after studying your movements. But either way, your experience is a reminder that there is a strong onus on customers to take care of their cards.