It pays to call out the watchdog - and it's free

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A total of nearly a quarter of a million pounds compensation was awarded last year to more than 100 people who took their cases to the Investment Ombudsman. The Ombudsman, whose services are free to the public (call 0171-796 3065 for details), arbitrates on complaints against a range of investment, unit trust and PEP managers. He ruled in favour of complainants in more than half the cases. The largest award against a company was for pounds 23,884. This involved a pounds 150,000 investment that was riskier than the investor had requested, and where the charges were not adequately explained. However, investors should always exhaust an investment company's own complaints procedure before contacting the Ombudsman.

MULTIPLE births are on the increase. The latest figures show the number of triplets born in England and Wales to have increased more than threefold in the last ten years, while the likelihood of twins is also increasing consistently. Eagle Star has launched a "multiple-birth insurance" policy that offers a cash payout designed to ease the associated financial strain. A typical premium for pounds 1,000 of cover, for a mother aged between 24 and 29 with no family history of multiple births, is pounds 41.

FOLLOWING Thursday's cut in base rates to 5.75 per cent, a range of mortgage lenders have cut their borrowing rates, with savings rates expected to follow. The Halifax cut its standard variable rate by 0.26 per cent to 6.99 per cent. Its discounted variable mortgages for new borrowers will be cut by 0.26 per cent immediately, while for existing borrowers the change will take place from August. Woolwich, Alliance & Leicester and Britannia building societies have cut to the same rate. Bradford & Bingley has cut to 6.74 per cent, while Direct Line moved to 6.05 per cent.

SCOTTISH Amicable will this week start returning the money of investors who subscribed to its Personal Equity Portfolio, which offered to shelter up to pounds 50,000 from tax. The Inland Revenue clamped down on the product, saying it exploited a loophole in the PEP rules. Normally, PEP investments are limited to pounds 6,000.