Hands up for hand-outs

Personal Finance
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The Independent Online
PRE-BUDGET rushes are one thing. But the coming week could be your last chance to open accounts to benefit from pounds 500 windfalls from the Alliance & Leicester and Woolwich building societies if they're taken over or announce their conversions into banks. Even now, it could be too late. Last week saw heightened speculation about both societies, already top tips for windfalls. To open an account with the best chances of a windfall you'll need pounds 500. The Woolwich's Prime Gold and the A&L's Instant Access are two potentials - both carry voting rights while still allowing you reasonable access to your money. You'll need proofs of identity and address to open an account - take a bill with your address on and a credit card or something with a signature on. It's a bit of a pain to open the accounts but a potential 100 per cent return on your money for no risk should make it worthwhile. While you're in the mood, open accounts with, at least, the Nationwide (try the Cashbuilder) and Bristol & West (the Select account) among the others. They're also good bets.

LAST week's windfalls go to 1.4 million Legal & General policyholders and 200,000 policyholders of insurer Provident Mutual. L&G is dividing up pounds 160m, while Provident Mutual policyholders are now due for their pounds 25m having this week succumbed to General Accident's advances. Encore for more Lottery-style goodies. Life insurers, one of the more hated financial services operators, are in danger of hauling themselves off the bottom of the heap. Even, dare I suggest it, in danger of becoming popular again. But let's not get too excited. The pounds 100-a-head the windfalls are worth on average will simply be added to policies' values rather than paid out in the crispy stuff. Not to be sniffed at, but not a patch on the building societies, where pounds 500 cash or shares is the basic. Also, the bonuses go to with-profits policyholders (mostly endowment owners), whose overall returns are not directly linked to investment performance. Actuaries determine the returns policies are due. As investment products go, endowments are yesterday's models, and a fear is that the windfall bonuses will be offset by reduced investment bonuses. Certainly don't go around taking out policies in the hope of further windfalls. These are bigger commitments than shuffling your savings around societies.

I WAS pleasantly surprised to hear that British companies are among the best employers in the world in terms of giving non-wage benefits, according to a report by Mintel for financial adviser body IFA Promotion. Last year, they doled out a chunky pounds 69bn to staff. Employers have been shouldering more of the welfare burden laid off by the state over the past decade. Trouble is, individuals themselves are going to have do a darn sight more in the future.From now on the report sees no increase in the share of an individual's health or pension cover provided by employers. And here's the rub: health insurance is not cheap and there has been moral resistance to buying it off your own bat. Getting a subsidised policy through your employer has proved popular and something of a godsend for the guilt-ridden. Maybe a sort of compulsory individual provision does offer a way forward (see left).

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