Windfalls: the latest hot tips

MONEY TALK
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The Independent Online
One in three adults is now said to be up for a financial windfall this year, and if anything the news is getting still better.

Norwich Union last week trumped expectations of the value of its windfall. Instead of the pounds 500 of free shares previously talked about, the average payout is now likely to be closer to pounds 1,000.

Alliance & Leicester has also revealed two additional sweeteners to its handout of pounds 1,100 of shares, due on 21 April. For those who hang on to their shares there is the possibility of benefiting from a big special dividend. And for those who want to sell straight away, the A&L has put in place a free selling deal.

Last but not least it could be time to carpetbag the Co-op. One Andrew Regan, a City whizzkid, and his investment vehicle, the Lanica Trust, are looking to take over and sell off part of the Co-op, and the suggestion is that the deal could be worth pounds 1,000 a head to Co-op members.

The Co-op is keen to refute that any sell-off would yield windfalls to members and says it does not have to accept membership applications. But the fact is it is possible to become a Co-op member for pounds 1 and you can do so by filling in a form which should be available from your local Co-op store (if they don't have any forms the shop should be able to get you one).

Important to note is that one Co-op is not necessarily the same as another - there is a whole range of "societies" that make up the Co-operative movement - so to maximise your chances of benefiting from any deal it is worth joining as many Co-ops as is practical; also being a customer of the Co-op Bank does not make you a member.

Conceivably this could be the best windfall return yet, or you could end up with nothing. Either way it's worth the price of a lottery ticket, and is arguably a better bet.

IT HAS long been an anomaly that despite mortgages being the biggest financial commitment of most people's lives, home loan advice has not been regulated even to the degree involved in buying a relatively straightforward investment like a PEP. Lenders have in the past insisted they give "information" not advice.

But last week saw the publication of a new code of practice, which should should go a long way towards redressing this balance, including, importantly, a requirement to provide a "reason why" letter to justify a recommendation. That said the code does not come into force until July and does not yet cover mortgage brokers and other financial intermediaries.

"Could do better" might also be the verdict on the new banking code which was also published last week. Banks and building societies will in future tell customers at least once a year if their interest rate has changed or if they are in an old account no longer open to new customers (a fair hint that it may start to lose competitiveness). But there is no mention of automatic compensation if a bank screws up.

To my knowledge only the Co-op Bank gives this - at pounds 10 a time. If banks really want us to believe they are becoming more customer-friendly, they would do well to follow suit.

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