Flood of interest in Equitable class action

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The Independent Online

A Group of Equitable Life policyholders, who are planning to sue the troubled life insurer over the substantial erosion of their retirement income, said yesterday they had rallied more than 400 members to join the case, and had received more than 2,000 enquiries.

A Group of Equitable Life policyholders, who are planning to sue the troubled life insurer over the substantial erosion of their retirement income, said yesterday they had rallied more than 400 members to join the case, and had received more than 2,000 enquiries.

The Equitable Life Trapped Annuitants group (Elta), which represents some 55,000 Equitable annuity holders, said it had extended the deadline for policyholders to join the class action until the end of May, because it had been inundated with applications.

Elta claims its members are unfairly locked into keeping their annuities with Equitable, and some have seen their income fall by more than 40 per cent since the society closed to new business in 2000. Equitable's chief executive, Charles Thompson, has conceded that the payouts could fall further still.

Peter Scawen, the chairman of Elta, said: "As of today we have received membership cheques and forms from over 400 people and we know there are many more on the way. This means we have met our first objective, which is to have enough information to brief counsel to determine the precise nature of our claims against the society."

Clarke Willmott, the Bristol-based law firm, is taking on the class action on a no-win, no-fee basis. However, members must pay an initial £100 towards costs, as well as a further £900 once the writ is issued in July.

Equitable warned that any legal action against it would only amount to policyholders suing themselves, as any compensation would have to be paid from funds used to pay policyholders' incomes.

Elta announced its legal action last month, shortly after Vanni Treves, Equitable's chairman, said the mutual would not be pushing ahead with plans to sue the Government. Mr Treves said the company's law firm, Herbert Smith, had said it did not have a strong enough case, and should instead rely on the possible reopening of an inquiry by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

The news comes ahead of Equitable's annual meeting tomorrow, which will see policyholders vote on a proposal for the society to set aside £2m to allow another action group, Emag, to sue the Government. Mr Treves has advised policyholders to vote against the motion.

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