In 2012, Jessica, our tenacious financial sleuth, again took on the banks, insurers and financial institutions on your behalf with astonishing results.
This year has proved to be another successful one for our financial agony aunt, Jessica Gorst-Williams. Over the past 12 months she has clawed back almost half a million pounds for our readers from banks, insurers and other companies.
Week by week, in her Jessica Investigates and Ask Jessica columns, which appear in the Saturday and Sunday Telegraph , she has taken up the cudgels on behalf of readers, tackling what appear to be intransigent problems that have often dragged on for months.
Below she details some of her more memorable cases, and outlines what lessons can be learnt from the financial problems she has tackled in 2012.
Over the year I reported how £450,669 had been extricated from banks, claimed from insurance companies, located in lost savings accounts or obtained from other companies. This doesn't include any savings readers may have made by following my advice themselves.
Among the most satisfactory results are those that exceed expectation. DC of Cornwall had written in seeking £8,000 from Aviva (LSE: AV.L - news) as it had not notified him that his pension fund had been earning paltry interest, rather than the 6pc per year he thought he was getting.
DC had tried to keep abreast of the interest rate being paid with a view to moving his money if it dipped. When he found out just how much he was getting, Aviva was tardy in providing transfer forms. Having not factored this in when considering the case earlier, Aviva now agreed to make good all DC's losses. These were totted up according to an agreed formula and came, somewhat surprisingly, to £18,201 which was paid into his fund.
Several readers found that extracting their savings from banks could seem like drawing teeth. IC of West of England had no idea how much the elderly relative he is acting for had with Santander (Madrid: SAN.MC - news) . He was initially told she had a single account, which didn't seem quite right. He had tried to get redress from the Ombudsman but eventually on the prompting of a solicitor contacted me.
More accounts then came to light with a combined sum in them of £58,775 far more than IC had anticipated. In addition, Santander paid £4,643 to cover the interest that had been added to IC's credit card bill, as well as the £1,140 solicitor's bill, £250 for goodwill, plus £266 to reflect the fall in value of a shares Isa included among the various savings account. This all made for a £65,074 resolution.
Debilitating illness had prevented LS (KSE: 006260.KS - news) of Essex from pursuing her work as a dental hygienist. A policy, now with Phoenix Life, had what is known as a "waiver of pension premiums provision", which ensures that payments will continue to be made into the pension fund if you are unable to work through ill health. Units should have been added to the fund but had not been. LS had been unable to put her finger on what was wrong. In all, my involvement led to £6,859 being added to the fund.
Instances of fraud in various guises cropped up with disturbing regularity, with many problems caused by cold callers, fake emailers and card scams.
RM (LSE: RM.L - news) of Surrey had been on a business trip in Shanghai. After a restaurant meal he disputed the bill, which came to an exorbitant amount. Then the situation became threatening and he paid, as he thought, the equivalent of £193 by card. The receipt was blank and RM alerted Barclaycard, which he found unhelpful. When he received his statement the debit was for £1,934. Barclaycard initially refused to pay the claim.
I argued that, had he taken a more aggressive stance, his personal safety could have been jeopardised and, as his travel insurance is with Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) , that could have been much more costly for the bank. This led to Barclaycard refunding the £1,934 plus interest, albeit with no admission of liability.
Often the most traumatic issues stemmed from household disasters. PC of East York's family's life remained on hold following a fire at his home. After something of an uphill struggle, I eventually managed to get the insurer, Equity Red Star, to pay more than £24,000 which adequately covered the aspects of the claim PC had written in about.
Meanwhile, RD of Dorset's sister was being pestered over a £3,960 hotel bill which had not been paid by Halifax Insurance four months after she had returned to her home after having to vacate it because of water damage. Seventeen letters later, RD approached me and that and other bills totalling £4,132 were paid at last.
Travel insurance dramas I reported on during 2012 included the experience of DH, aged 76, of County Londonderry. He had been a passenger on a bus in Spain while on a business trip when a fire extinguisher exploded near his face coating him in a fire-retardant powder that left him, he reported, looking like a snowman.
The police took him to a garage to blow the substance off with a compressor. Despite DH's stalwart efforts to get redress for a ripped jacket, air travel and hotel along with medical reports, (the incident exacerbated chest problems he already had), Allianz Spain, the bus company's insurer, only agreed to settle after my involvement. £2,514 was paid on account of the injuries and £418 for the other categories.
JV of Dorset's problem revolved around a laptop case containing a computer and some jewellery which was stolen during a train journey in Switzerland. Having rejected the claim beforehand, my involvement led to Axa Insurance conceding that it was unreasonable to expect JV to look at the laptop case for the full duration of the journey and settling for £1,000.
My intervention has also led to various terms and conditions being changed which should have an impact on the wider public.
The Department of Work and Pensions said it has amended processes because of a case involving the non-payment of winter fuel allowance to JL of Cornwall's mother. This led to her receiving a payment of £1,900.
A decade before writing in, JK of Surrey had tried to increase the couple's critical illness cover under a clause that allowed more to be bought without new underwriting where there was a "significant event" such as becoming parents. The company, now under the Phoenix (LSE: PHNX.L - news) brand, had not let JK do this because the child was adopted after she was one year-old.
The policy conditions stipulated the child must be under 12 months old at the time of the request to expand cover. JK had to acquire extra insurance sourced elsewhere at a less-favourable price. My involvement led to Phoenix Life reimbursing the additional £3,600 cost of cover, and agreeing to make positive changes to ensure that others aren't similarly disadvantaged.
GW of Lancashire lost out while switching his investment into cash because of a quaint rule whereby a faxed request, such as he had made, was held back while postal instructions played catch-up. I argued that the initiative of getting the request in sooner by fax was to be applauded rather than penalised. The insurer, Sun Life Financial (Toronto: SLF-PC.TO - news) of Canada, took on the point, made good the £966 shortfall and is looking into making its process more flexible.
In another turnaround, Santander agreed, after I contacted it, to abide by a promise given by its predecessors to continue to provide free banking for certain existing business banking customers.
MC of Scotland's problems with the Bank of Scotland telephone banking service led to a pilot test whereby the voice request will ask for digit number five rather than the fifth digit which was sometimes being confused with the sixth.
As usual, petty mistakes over names, addresses and figures proliferated. Some people were pursuing small sums that really did not seem worth the candle. I mentioned WH of Essex's crusade over a £1.90 discrepancy in a telephone bill.
I dealt with several cases about uncashed cheques. MG of Kent, representing her 84-year-old sister, explained how three years earlier she had found a number of distribution cheques issued by the Santander Asset Management Unit Trust that hadn't been presented for payment.
Since then she had been pushed from pillar to post trying to realise the funds. By the time she came to me, most of the money had been credited back to the unit trust for the benefit of all investors, as allowed under the prospectus. Recognising how long MG had been pursuing this, the bank refunded the cheques, even those outside this time limit, giving her a total of £1,017 in all.
Depressingly I continued to receive many letters about mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) and other financial products. I wrote how Barclays was persuaded to pay out £8,592 after it sold the Aviva (Morley) Global Cautious Income fund. This is designed to be a medium to long-term investment product, but the customer had died a year later, at the age of 70.
The bank had stated there was a "requirement for high regular income for social life". This did not quite tally with the client's long history of ill health which meant he had had chemotherapy, had not worked for a few years prior to his retirement, had not used his car for a few months before his death and was undergoing medical investigations for a heart condition.
Sadly, good news stories were few and far between, but one or two brightened the otherwise bleak financial landscape.
Prudential (LSE: PRU.L - news) , for example, announced that customers who had paid premiums on certain whole-of-life insurance policies for 40 years would not have to pay a penny more, but would continue to have cover.
It would be nice to see other insurers follow its lead in the new year.
• Please address letters to Jessica, Your Money, The Daily Telegraph, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT. Because of the volume of mail received, it is not possible to respond to every letter and correspondence cannot be entered into. Please do not send original documents or stamped and addressed envelopes. Responsibility, legal or otherwise, for answers given cannot be accepted. Cases currently with an ombudsman, going through a court of law or sent to other columns will not be considered. In addition I cannot take up issues when the writer is a third party, other than in exceptional circumstances. I cannot respond to emails. A full postal address, a signature and daytime telephone number are needed.
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