Halifax SAYE blow

Thousands of savers with Halifax Building Society who have been contributing to employee save-as-you-earn schemes run by the society on behalf of companies, stand to lose a significant portion of their share entitlements when the society converts to a bank next year.

The Halifax has ruled that bonuses paid into employee SAYE accounts by the society will not count towards the balance used to calculate the number of shares a saver will receive.

This will mean a saver contributing pounds 100 a month to a five-year savings programme starting in 1988, and receiving a standard bonus from the society of the equivalent of 12 monthly payments at the conclusion of the programme in 1993, and retaining the account with the society, would be considered by the Halifax to have a balance of pounds 6,000 on 25 November 1994, the date set by the Halifax for conversion.

In fact, the saver would have pounds 7,200 in their account, but because the bonus is not "capitalised" - that is, it does not appear on the saver's statement until he or she closes the account - the Halifax does not consider the money to be present for the purposes of its conversion.

As a result, holders of Halifax SAYE accounts may be entitled to less shares than they had previously believed when they receive their conversion documentation early next year.

Administrators of the SAYE schemes within companies are worried they will face a barrage of complaints from employees as a result of the ruling. Kevin Murch, the SAYE administrator at Rugby Group, said he was "disappointed" that the Halifax had not seen fit to include bonuses as part of its shareholding calculations.

"We have a good relationship with the Halifax, which has run our scheme since its inception in 1985. We thought it had simply made an error, and we expected it to stand by what its literature said. Instead it has taken the opposite view," Mr Murch said.

The Halifax contract governing its "sharesave scheme" states that holders of the five-year savings contract are entitled to their bonus - on which interest is also paid - after the five-year period has expired. The bonus payment itself does not appear on the account, but is repaid when the account is closed. The Halifax told Mr Murch it did not include the bonus figure in the account "for technical reasons".

He added: "Our employee option holders at Rugby Group are annoyed that information they have received from the Halifax is incorrect. We were told that the only way something would be done about this was if enough people complained."

The Halifax said that because the bonuses to the SAYE scheme are only payable at the time the account is closed, the bonus could not count towards the balance of the account at the time of conversion.