Readers' lives

Premium bond prizes ... income support ... endowment mortgages. Each week we answer your letters on everyday financial concerns

Readers' lives

I have been buying premium bonds regularly for a number of years. I'm sure I have lost, or not been sent, some of the certificates. I am concerned I may have lost out on prizes for not having certificates or because of the vagaries of the post, moving etc. What can I do? SL, London

Write to National Savings, which will be able to confirm the value and number of the bonds you are registered as holding. If necessary, it will provide you with replacement certificates and confirm whether you have any prizes outstanding, as well as giving you a list of all the prizes you have won so you can be sure nothing has got lost along the way. National Savings will do all this for free. Write to: Premium Bonds, National Savings, Blackpool FY3 9YP.

You should provide details of all addresses which you might have given when buying bonds, any variations in the name given, and your date of birth. You will also need to sign your letter; this signature will be used in confirming that you are who you say you are. Also, if you have any bond certificates, quote the holder numbers.

If you want a list of all the prizes you have won, say so. Otherwise you will only get a list for the past two years.

Premium bond prize cheques are account payee only. If someone has fraudulently cashed in your prize, National Savings says it will make good any losses.

Only prizes of pounds 1,000 or less are sent out directly by post. There are extra checks in place for the bigger-value prizes. If you win pounds 100,000, or the pounds 1m jackpot, you will receive a personal visit and be required to fill in a separate claim form.

Another way of checking up on prizes you may be due, but haven't received, is to consult the London Gazette, which is published monthly and available for free inspection in main post offices. This lists all the winning prize numbers in a particular monthly draw. A separate quarterly supplement lists all unclaimed prizes from draws going back 18 months or more (winners in draws held more recently are still being sought by National Savings).

My son is unable to work due to a physical disability and is on income support. Soon he will inherit pounds 50,000, but the interest on it will not equal the income support he will lose. Can the money be invested in a way which will retain the benefits of income support? CP, Edinburgh

You can't get income support if you have savings of more than pounds 8,000 (nor housing benefit nor council tax benefit if you have more than pounds 16,000). The rules mean that your son would be expected to top up any investment income by eating into the pounds 50,000 capital sum. There is no legal way round this.

But what if your son spirited away this capital at a rapid rate? The advice from Djuna Thurleigh of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is to tread carefully. She points out that a "deprivation of capital" rule exists to see whether someone has deliberately spent money on expensive holidays, cars and so on in order to qualify for benefit. If so, you will be treated as still having the money and income support payments will be reduced accordingly.

But if you spend some of the money on items like washing machines, this may be viewed in a better light. Your son could ask the benefits agency in advance how spending plans would affect his entitlement.

He may be in receipt of non-means tested benefits as part of his overall income and these will not be affected by the capital rules. He should check whether he is entitled to incapacity benefit, a severe disablement allowance or a disability living allowance. Your son should get advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau. CPAG (0171 253 3406) also publishes guides which might be of use.

I have an endowment mortgage of pounds 75,500 on a property worth pounds 75,500. I also have a separate negative equity repayment mortgage of pounds 6,000. We took out a three-year fixed-rate mortgage in 1994, but now see better deals around. Will any lenders take us on with our negative equity loan? SY, Dunstable

Try Cheltenham & Gloucester, now part of Lloyds Bank, says Patrick Bunton of the Bath mortgage broker London & Country. C&G will lend up to 125 per cent of the value of your property. However, you will go on to its standard variable rate, currently 6.9 per cent, and I suspect you are really looking for a low fixed rate.

But is it worth switching? Probably not. You haven't said what fixed rate you are now paying, nor from which lender. But there will almost certainly be a heavy penalty if you pay off the current lender. In addition, if you switch to another lender there are usually extra costs - solicitors' fees, valuation fees, search fees and so on.

You are also wondering whether you should switch from an endowment loan to a repayment loan. Your negative equity would disappear sooner, and your existing lender may agree to do this for you. But you are likely to get poor value from your endowment policy if you cash it in before maturity. You could maintain the endowment as a separate savings vehicle, if you can afford to keep it up.

q Write to Steve Lodge, personal finance editor, Readers' Lives, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, and include a telephone number.

Do not enclose SAEs or documents that you wish to be returned. We cannot give personal replies and cannot guarantee to answer every letter sent to Readers' Lives. We accept no legal responsibility for advice.

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