Halifax can start by using plain English


I am discovering the meaning of shareholder democracy with the arrival of a notice from the Halifax of an extraordinary general meeting. I won't be able to attend the meeting on 18 November but can vote by proxy. I am not sure what the Halifax board's proposals (to create preference shares) mean or whether to give my approval.


The language used in the Halifax's letter presents a barrier to shareholder democracy. Phrases such as Tier 1 Capital, revaluation reserves and so on probably disqualify the majority of small shareholders from participating in the affairs of the companies they own.

This is fertile ground for the Plain English Campaign. In an age of mass share ownership, shareholders surely have a right to understand the documents they receive.

In any event, shareholding democracy can be something of a mirage. Decisions are taken by a majority of votes according to the normal rules. But the number of votes carried by the large institutional investors is usually enough to carry the day and, with rare exceptions, they usually vote to support the board's recommendations.

It tends to be only the tightly contested takeover battles where shareholders' votes affect the outcome. Even then, the institutional shareholder's vote is likely to be decisive. Arguably, shareholder votes are in practice an (expensive) charade.

On this occasion the Halifax board wants approval to create 1 billion preference shares, some of which it will give to members of the Birmingham Midshires building society, which it is hoping to take over.

In your letter you were worried that the preference shares would confer preferential rights over dividends and Halifax assets, and that this would lessen the value of your ordinary shares. In practice, this would be relevant only if the Halifax had severe cash-flow problems or even became insolvent.

Preference shares work like corporate bonds with regular fixed-income payments.

If the Halifax's profits increase, it is the ordinary shareholders, not the preferential shareholders, who benefit. They are likely to receive increasing dividends and enjoy better long-term returns than preference shares.

Who levies insurance?

I have a leasehold flat and the freeholder wants to charge me for buildings insurance. The freeholder says I must insure the property through him, but the building society says I must buy its insurance, which is cheaper.


This should have been sorted out by your own solicitor when you bought the flat. You could return to that solicitor for advice, but if he or she is unhelpful or defensive, or wants to charge you lots of money, forget it. Pursue any complaint against the solicitor at a later stage.

First concentrate on the main problem and tread carefully. Get in touch with the Leasehold Advisory Service on 0171-493 3116. Hopefully this dispute can be solved simply and amicably.

There are unscrupulous landlords who will seize any chance to take money from you. There have been cases where leaseholders have run up substantial legal costs fighting a freeholder. In the worst cases, leaseholders have inadvertently broken the terms of their lease with dire consequences.

The lease will say who has responsibility for insurance. But even if the freeholder has the right to arrange insurance, you can still go to a leasehold valuation tribunal to contest excessive costs.

Have you won a prize?

I've seen advertisements for numbers to ring to check whether Premium Bond numbers have won a prize. Doesn't Ernie write to people with winning bonds?


National Savings does notify people when they win a Premium Bonds prize. But many bondholders don't get notification because they have changed address and forgotten to tell National Savings.

Please don't waste money on premium rate phone lines; write to the National Savings Premium Bond Office, Blackpool FY3 9YP, giving details of all your Premium Bond numbers, your previous addresses and your personal bondholder's number if you have one. In theory, your personal bondholder's number should be enough to find out about any winnings, but in practice this may not be so.

You can also use the internet. Key in your personal number at www.nationalsavings.co.uk

Main post offices have the London Gazette, a quarterly publication that carries the numbers of all the bonds where a prize has not been claimed.

Write to the personal finance editor, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, and include a phone number; or fax 0171-293 2096; or e-mail i.berwick@independent.co.uk

Do not enclose SAEs or any documents you wish to be returned. We cannot give personal replies, or guarantee to answer letters. We accept no legal responsibility for advice given.

newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?