What's the story? More windfall glory

Free share update: a regular guide to the state of the handouts

The windfall story is far from over. Speculation continues about the future of the Nationwide building society and in particular whether it might be taken over, which could well yield payouts of pounds 1,500 or more a head. Meanwhile, as our table shows, four more windfalls will be paid in the coming months.

It is no longer possible to open a new account with Nationwide (unless you are already a customer). The society closed its doors after a stampede of account openings in recent weeks, although it insists this should not be interpreted as an indication that it is about to announce a windfall. It says it plans to reopen to new customers in four to six weeks when it has cleared the backlog, and accounts opened at that time will still make savers members of the society and therefore potentially in line for any windfall subsequently announced.

Of course, as those who have received or are in line for a building society windfall now know, spotting the winning societies is not the whole story: there are also administrative hurdles to overcome to get the loot. Our table, which we will update in coming issues, is aimed at giving an at- a-glance view of the progress of each windfall and any action required.

Many of the demutualising societies and insurers have taken a long time to produce the promised payouts and have compounded frustrations with confusing documentation and other pitfalls. Take, for example, the serious gripe of savers that they have felt trapped in poor-paying accounts while waiting for their windfalls. With all three building societies in the table it should now be possible to withdraw savings without putting windfalls at risk - with the important caveat that savers still keep a qualifying account open. However, savers who do want to shift their money before they get their windfall - whether within the same society or elsewhere - might be best advised to get a personal letter from the converting society confirming that their eligibility will not change. Reports suggest significant numbers of savers have been advised verbally by branch staff that they can switch accounts within a society with impunity, only then to find they have excluded themselves from a payout. Getting "re-accepted" for a windfall is far from easy - the Building Societies Ombudsman deems most complaints to be out of his jurisdiction, for example - and so having advice in writing can only help.

Offers to sell shares for free by societies should also be weighed carefully. Windfall shares are coming to the stock market at higher-than-expected prices - the latest predictions from IG Index, a firm of City bookmakers, are that Woolwich shares will start trading on the market next week at 310p, giving people due even the minimum handout a windfall worth nearly pounds 1,400. But savers tempted to cash in their chips through free dealing offers should first ask themselves what they otherwise plan to do with the money. If selling to spend or pay off debts then fine, but if all you plan to do with the proceeds is have the money sitting in a savings account then, over the longer term, you might well be better off sticking with the shares.

Unless, perhaps, you use the cash to take a stake in the next society on the block.


Latest news and action required

Woolwich: Windfall due next Monday. Tomorrow is deadline for signing up to sell shares for free through Woolwich; and also deadline for getting share certificate in time for stock market listing. If you want a certificate, return form asap. Any queries, call 0345 022033.

Bristol & West: Qualifying savers and borrowers should have received registration forms for their windfalls last week. Cash windfalls will go out between 11 and 25 August; share windfalls on 28 July (but certificates only posted 4 August ). If you want a certificate or to sell shares for free through B&W, return form by 21 July. Any queries, call 0800 886633.

Northern Rock: Free shares - 500 a head, worth perhaps pounds 1,500 - due to be handed out on 1 October. No action required. Any queries: 0345 448866.

Scottish Amicable: Policyholders last week voted in favour of the insurer being taken over by Prudential. Cash windfalls averaging pounds 550 (minimum pounds 250) due in October, with a further pounds 900 a head of bonuses to be added to the value of policies. No action required. Any queries: 0345 888555.

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