Withdraw with the Woolwich

The society has come clean with its savers, writes Steve Lodge
Savers with more than pounds 100 in the Woolwich can now take money out of their accounts without fear of reducing their share windfall, due in autumn 1997.

The society said last week it will warn savers in advance when they need to top up their accounts again to maximise their windfall, expected to average pounds 800 in free shares.

Only those savers with a total of pounds 1,000 in qualifying accounts on 31 December, 1995 need worry about topping up their accounts again since only they will be entitled to anything more than the basic windfall.

All qualifying savers should still keep at least pounds 100 in their accounts to get this basic windfall, expected to be worth perhaps pounds 500 (although the actual figure has yet to be established).

The society's 500,000 borrowers will only get this basic windfall. Some 3.5 million savers are eligible for at least the basic windfall. To qualify for extra free shares you need to be a saver with pounds 1,000 as at the end of last year, and at least pounds 1,000 on a date early next year that the society will reveal in advance. You will also need to have been a "two-year saver", that is, to have been a member continuously for two years until a date yet to be announced but again likely to be next year. The actual amount of extra free shares will be determined by the lower of your two balances on 31 December, 1995 and the new date.

Savers with less than pounds 1,000 can, therefore, run down their balances to pounds 100 if they so wish. They should not need to worry about topping up their accounts.

The announcement offers a solution to a particular bugbear of savers waiting for windfalls who feel locked in to poor interest rates in the meantime. The Halifax has already said it will warn savers when they need to top up their accounts again. But other societies, such as Alliance & Leicester, are not telling savers what the deal will be, so discouraging them from touching their money.

The announcement does, however, still leave unanswered exactly how much each saver or borrower will get. This will become clearer early next year.

The Woolwich also said last week that where a member dies before the share handout the windfall will not be lost but will go the estate or second-named account holder on joint accounts. In addition, the society has already announced that savers with maturing Tax-Exempt Special Savings Accounts can put money into a Woolwich Personal Equity Plan without reducing windfall eligibility, so long as they keep back pounds 100.

These proposals may not be set in stone, however. The society might be bid for before it reaches the stock market, leading to new windfall proposals. A predator would be expected to offer more money, which might, for example, mean the extra windfall kicking in at a lower level.

Woolwich has produced two free leaflets giving details of the extra shares proposals and the treatment of dead members' windfalls. These can be obtained at branches. There is also a helpline on 0345 022 033.

Separately, Britannia building society has just sent out registration forms and information packs to 1.6 million of its customers for its previously announced Members Loyalty Bonus Scheme. It is an attempt to convince members that it pays for societies to remain mutuals rather than hand out bigger one-off windfalls.