A&L's share deadline put back

Alliance & Leicester bowed to public pressure yesterday and extended the deadline by four days for members to return forms allowing investors to choose to sell their shares immediately or keep them.

The building society's initial time limit for the return of share allocation forms ran out yesterday in order to keep to a tight schedule which sees their first shares being traded on 21 April. Yesterday the society admitted that many forms had reached members later than planned.

The 2.3 million forms posted last month gave members the option to sell their shares on the flotation date via an auction conducted by Cazenove. But thousands of members complained as the clock ran out this week that they had not received forms, had been unable to get through on A&L's flotation hotline or had been met with "busy" fax machines.

A&L responded yesterday by extending the time for forms to be returned until 15 April. It said it was "extending its opening hours for enquiries to 8am - 8pm Mondays to Fridays, and the Flotation Information Office will continue to be open 9am - midday on Saturdays. The number of staff answering telephones and responding to mail has also been increased."

An A&L spokesman yesterday said that a "very encouraging" 92 per cent of the allocation forms had already been sent back by members.

The spokesman also pointed out that of the four big building societies demutualising this year, "we started the process last and are finishing it first".

Halifax, for instance, has 8.5 million potential shareholders and declared its intention to convert more than 18 months ago. It will be sending out its first share allocation forms in 10 days' time. Shares in Halifax start dealing in early June.

A&L blamed the delay in members receiving forms on a combination of "the Easter break and the high volume of similar mailings at the same time".

The society said that members who were never shareholders before were keen to find out what was involved, and that A&L had received "a number of questions about the flotations of the Halifax and Woolwich, as well as its own."

This year's crowded schedule for flotations has already caused the Post Office problems, which can only guarantee to deliver 98.8 per cent of mail posted.

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