Societies bungle windfalls

Personal Finance Editor
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The Independent Online
BUILDING societies are throwing away chunks of the goodwill generated by their windfall announcements.

Last month the Woolwich's disdainful carpeting of "carpetbaggers" - excluding people who opened accounts this year from the windfall - led to a number of complaints of arbitrariness and lack of fairness, and even threats of legal action.

Last week it was the turn of the Alliance & Leicester. Announcing windfalls that are likely to average pounds 800 a head for 3 million savers and borrowers, it refused to say whether people could touch their savings without reducing their entitlement to free shares.

Key is that the society will not reveal whether it will give more shares to people with higher balances, or the terms of such a bonus.

This will particularly trouble those with high savings balances. They might hope to have the best chance of being given extra shares, and also stand to suffer the most from being locked into Alliance & Leicester's increasingly uninspiring savings rates.

Both societies are also guilty of taking forever to officially announce their windfalls, effectively resulting in reduced gains for "genuine" customers because of the number of speculative account openings last year, while at the same time virtually guaranteeing some ill-feeling when they backdated the qualification dates.

The Halifax, by contrast, is guilty of simply taking forever (two-and- a-half years) between announcing its windfall and the expected handout day.

But is all this irrelevant nitpicking? Not for those who have lost out. And not perhaps if a predator appears on the scene, looking to take over the A&L or the Woolwich. That would mean more money on offer. And if the deal was generally slicker than those already on the table, that could only help its chances.