Your Money: Hung up on sale of BT

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THE Government is about to privatise British Telecom for the third time.

It is already beginning to gear up for a publicity campaign in May for a sell-off probably in late July.

Last week, it invited 100 private client stockbrokers, banks, building societies and financial advisers to a seminar to persuade them all that it would be a jolly good idea to act as share shops for this sell-off and to talk people into becoming long-term investors.

Through thick and thin - extremely thin times, you might say - the Government has stuck to its belief in wider share ownership.

In the second BT sell-off at the end of 1991, a select band of eight share shops helped out. Applicants who used the shops were promised preferential allocations and vouchers for cut-price dealing in the three months following the flotation.

The vouchers were not worth a great deal as many others were keen for business and cut their prices to compete. And as for widening share ownership . . . 95 per cent of the 380,000 transactions were share sales.

Most private client brokers - ever optimistic - came away from the meeting enthusiastic that they could make money out of the flotation as well as some long- term connections.

Meanwhile, the Government still believes individual share ownership is the way to make us care about the state of the nation and buy British.

But the Government itself must bear some of the blame for the short-term view of share ownership that Sid and Sally have picked up from the smash-and-grab flotations.

It is taking much longer to get over the message of long- term investment and spreading risk.

SO often, firms cloak bad news in syrupy language and hope for a warm response. But it takes the Inland Revenue to deliver what could be considered good news in such curt terms that it seems like a rebuke.

It is not an easy subject, but one taxpayer was told that she could not be considered self-employed as tax and national insurance are taken off her shift payments as a freelance journalist. As a result, she was told to change her pension contributions to make them net of tax relief.

So instead of, say, pounds 50 a month being paid to the insurance company as a pension contribution out of untaxed income, and that being the end of it, any payments have to be treated as being paid after tax has already been deducted. The pension provider then has to reclaim tax and boost the pension contribution.

The simple way to make the change is to drop the payment to pounds 37.50 and let the insurance company reclaim pounds 12.50 to get back to a pounds 50 a month pension. That could make you feel better off, even though the end result is neutral.

Otherwise, the payments would be treated as an increased contribution and the extra amount might be subject to a new set of initial charges. But you would get a larger pension in the end.

The gentler approach to all this could have yielded a thank you. Perhaps Inland Revenue staff should be reminded that sometimes it's not what you say, it's the way you say it.

GARAGES and companies specialising in windscreen replacement are making a packet out of the new MOT regulations that came into force in January.

According to the Insurance Service, they are advising motorists to change windscreens unnecessarily. The insurer says there has been a 20 per cent increase in replacements since the beginning of the year.

The regulations state that a car will fail the MOT if damage in the zone right in front of the driver is larger than 10mm, or larger than 40mm in the area swept by the windscreen wipers.

Motorists usually have to pay a windscreen excess of pounds 25 to pounds 40. But they will also suffer in the long run from increased premiums to cover higher claims.

The health insurers have started to persuade policyholders that excess charging by private hospitals is a direct attack on the premiums that they end up paying. Their initiative has led many to become vigilant and watch out for the rogues.

It really is high time that motorists began taking the same attitude and watching the garage bills as if they were paying every penny themselves - because collectively they are.

No garage should have the nerve to ask in conspiratorial tones whether it is an insurance job - with the hint that money will be no object.