Your Money: Savers should apply pressure

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The Independent Online
THE loud cheering from borrowers that greets a fall in interest rates usually drowns out the groans from savers.

But building societies are not so totally insensitive that they have forgotten it takes around six savers to support each borrower on the books. They know they cannot afford to be careless and lose them.

The societies have quietly moved from routinely quoting interest rates net of basic rate tax to quoting gross rates, since non-taxpayers have been able to apply to have their interest paid intact. This, of course, makes the rates seem higher.

Even so, the gross rates being paid on some defunct share accounts and current accounts are hovering so near to 1 per cent net that there is no scope for a 1 per cent cut without making customers pay for the privilege of depositing their money.

While this is likely to happen with cheque accounts, it is not going to be acceptable to alert savers.

The competition between building societies and banks, never mind the keen competition from National Savings, is going to cause some angst when it comes to shaving rates.

Savers should think hard about consolidating their accounts and checking out the competition. The more responsive savers are to changes in rates, the more careful the societies will be to offer a decent return.

Recently, widening their margins to cover bad debts and unsold repossessed houses has seemed to take a higher priority than keeping savers happy. Now the societies that can afford to offer a keener edge - because they have kept away from dodgy loans, loss-making estate agency ventures and expensive branches - have the chance to demonstrate that not all banks and building societies are the same.

IT would not be surprising to find vultures at the pit- head lamp room anxious to relieve the redundant workers of the burden of large sums of cash.

Respectable organisations stress that they are independent and keen to offer practical advice. The Co-operative Bank has set up a telephone hotline; and Yorkshire Building Society has a booklet, cassette tape and counselling available for miners.

It is difficult not to be cynical, even though their motives may be pure and genuine.

Although they are not tied to any one company, they stand to garner commission payments from any form of insurance and most sorts of investment.

Parting with cash to pay for dispassionate advice is always going to be difficult. But anyone with a large redundancy cheque should try to weigh up the real value of paying up rather than risking biased advice.

WIDOWS and orphans are usually treated with special delicacy, care and consideration.

But when there is no wedding ring to set the seal on a relationship, the set-up can be very different.

Pension schemes have gradually been recognising that not everyone is part of a standard heterosexual married relationship. Employees are increasingly allowed to nominate an adult dependant to receive a 'widow's' pension. So unmarried and homosexual couples can be accorded the same status as married couples.

BT moved in this direction in 1991, but things have not run smoothly for one BT 'widow'. Penny Spring met a man who had been retired on health grounds from the company in 1985. They set up home together and had a son. But when her partner died suddenly a year ago aged 35, she discovered that neither she nor her three-and-a-half- year-old son Matthew were entitled to a penny from the BT pension fund.

Her partner had not filled in the nomination form, but believed she would be entitled to claim the pension. BT says nomination forms were sent on two occasions when the scheme rules were changed. But somehow the forms were overlooked among the pension bumpf.

BT says the trustees have no discretion over the rules, which state that only those nominated on the form can claim a dependant's pension.

What about Matthew? He was conceived after his father had left BT, so was also ineligible for any payments.

Duncan Howorth, of pensions experts GM Benefit Consultants, took up the case as Ms Spring's brother-in- law. He says it is hard to believe that the trustees cannot apply for a waiver of the rules, so that some payment could be made on compassionate grounds. But BT is adamant that rules are rules.

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