Relief fund for victims of Farepak collapse

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A government-backed fund was established yesterday to help up to 150,000 people who have lost savings in the collapse of Christmas hamper company Farepak.

Ian McCartney, the Minister for Trade, said the independent Farepak Response Fund would be run by the Family Fund, a charity which assists families with disabled children. He called on MPs to donate a day's salary to the fund as a goodwill gesture.

Mr McCartney said he had held talks with the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, Clara Furse, about setting up a "Traders' Day", where some of the proceeds of the day's trading could be donated to the fund. He said he was also in talks with the chairman of HBOS, Lord Stevenson, about the possibility of the bank making a contribution to the fund.

The announcement came as retail giants announced they would support efforts to help families who have lost up to £40m in the crash, which was condemned by Mr McCartney as a "national emergency".

Marks & Spencer announced a £250,000 contribution to the fund, while John Lewis also offered support for the scheme, pledging that customers who had saved for the company's vouchers could receive one-quarter of the value of their savings.

Sainsbury's supermarket chain said it had agreed that Farepak customers saving for its vouchers should be able to receive a quarter of the value of their savings, while Tesco said it was donating £250,000 to the relief fund.

Farepak was condemned in the Commons yesterday, with MPs criticising Sir Clive Thompson, chairman of the firm's parent company European Home Retail. Farepak ran a savings club in which an estimated 150,000 customers saved for vouchers and Christmas hampers.

Mr McCartney said: "Farepak's collapse means that hard-working people who have saved their money for Christmas have been left with nothing."

He said the fund "was about the spirit of Christmas", adding: "I am sure whether you are a multinational, a national or a local company, this fund offers you an opportunity to make a contribution, a gesture large or small."

Jim Devine, Labour MP for Livingston, told a debate on the affair: "Let's be clear what this is about - this is legalised money laundering from the poor to the rich. Sir Clive Thompson is without doubt the 21st century equivalent of the Sheriff of Nottingham... This is an absolute scandal. The people involved in this are the organised poor. I say that not in a patronising manner, but these are people who didn't use loan sharks... did not use credit cards. These are people who saved."

Earlier, Gordon Brown said: "It is terrible what has happened to people who have saved through this scheme. To lose your money and therefore vouchers before Christmas, when you have been banking on that for your Christmas presents, is outrageous."