Questions of Cash: April 2014

Q. I recently found travellers’ cheques to the value of $490 that date back to the 1990s.  These were bought from the Abbey National Building Society, before it was bought by Santander. They all bear the Visa mark and Citicorp as issuer.  Santander refused to cash them and disclaimed any responsibility.  I have tried other banks and the Post Office without success. TD, by email.

A. We have spent several months liaising with Citi about this. Eventually Citi confirmed that Abbey National issued travellers’ cheques bearing the Citicorp imprint. Citi tells us that as Abbey sold the cheques, Abbey – and therefore now Santander – is responsible for encashment.  Citi says that the purposes of its branding was to enable the cheques to be accepted internationally.  With this knowledge we went to Santander, which has now agreed to cash them.  A spokeswoman for Santander says: “We have made enquiries regarding [the reader’s] old travellers’ cheques and confirmed with Citicorp, the issuer, that the cheques are still valid and obtained an authorisation number. As the funds would have been passed from Abbey to Citicorp when the cheques were initially ‘sold’ we need to obtain the funds from Citicorp. [The reader] has sent all the cheques to our International Payments department who have forwarded them on to Citicorp to obtain their value. These have been sent on a collection basis, meaning we will credit [the reader’s] account on receipt of the funds from the remitting bank.”  On current exchange rates, the cheques are worth a bit under £300.

Q. I bought from John Lewis one of its own brand integrated fridge freezers.  I feel fobbed-off and let down by John Lewis.The fridge is too warm for me to store food in because the door does not seal properly. This is the second major problem I have had with the product.  When an engineer came to fit a new door I was told that the cabinet in which the product sits was causing the existing door to not seal properly and that the same would happen to a new door.  I have spoken repeatedly to John Lewis, but without result. I want either the product replaced, or my money back.  ES, Sheffield.

A. A spokeswoman for John Lewis says: “We have offered the customer the original purchase price of £799.00 towards an exchange or refund. In this particular instance, it took us longer to identify the problem than it should have and we apologise for any inconvenience caused. We originally tried to fix the issues identified by our engineers but, after finding the product to still be at fault, concluded that an exchange or refund was necessary.” You have chosen to buy a new, cheaper, model from John Lewis and have been reimbursed with the price difference.

Q. I have a personal question which will affect others. My date of birth is 1 March, 1951. I will therefore fall short of qualifying for the new universal pension by 37 days. Can I defer my state pension for two months and then qualify for the new universal pension?  PH, by email.

A. Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at advisors Hargreaves Lansdown, says: “Unfortunately your entitlement to your state pension is based on your official state pension age, rather than when you actually come to draw on it. This means that deferring until after the new rules come in will make no difference for you, apart from marginally boosting your entitlement thanks to the 1 per cent increase payable for every five weeks you defer your state pension.”

Q. I previously asked your advice on cashing-in the smaller of my two private pensions (Questions of Cash, 26 January, 2013). Your advice said that this was not possible as most of a pension must be paid as income, not in cash. Now Osborne’s Budget has changed the rules. One no longer has to purchase an annuity and can from next year take the whole cash value instead. I realise that applies to people who haven’t yet purchased annuities, but will this lead to pressure for annuity holders to be able to extract the cash value of existing annuities? IC, by email.

A. Tom McPhail says: “The Financial Conduct Authority investigation [into the annuities market] has the potential to be very interesting and may challenge insurance companies to give better value to existing customers. Unfortunately for your reader, I don’t think either the budget or the more recent FCA announcement are likely to influence the terms of his annuity contract. I’m not aware of any pressure from within government, the FCA or the insurers themselves to offer existing annuitants an opt out. Having said that, we live in surprising times so they might want to keep an eye on policy developments over the months ahead.”

Q. You previously helped me obtain an answer from Luton Council about damage to my families’ burial plot in the council cemetery (Questions of Cash, 23 November, 2013). A lorry had been driven into the cemetery and damaged the graves. The council told you it was referring the matter to its insurers.  It is now four months later and we have heard nothing more.  JB, Luton.

A. We contacted the council’s insurers, Zurich, and asked for its decision.  It tells us that it has rejected the claim for compensation.  A spokeswoman for Zurich explains:  “We are sympathetic to [the reader’s] situation and we understand this decision may come as a disappointment; it’s therefore with regret that we’re unable to consider a claim for compensation. However, it does not appear that Luton Borough Council has been negligent.” You do not accept this argument as you say there has been at least one previous incident of vandalism at the cemetery.  We suggest you take the matter further by requesting the decision be reviewed by the Local Government Ombudsman.  The matter is outside the remit of the Financial Ombudsman Service as you do not have a direct contractual relationship with the insurer.

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