Q. I am due to reach my state retirement age of 65 in April 2015. This is before the state pension rises to £155 a week in April 2016, so I will receive only a state pension that is currently £110.15 a week and increases to £113.10 next April. I have about 40 years’ worth of NI contributions. I see from The Independent’s coverage of the Autumn Statement that the Chancellor has announced that people in my position will be able to make additional NI contributions to increase the amount of state pension they receive. How will this will work, who do I contact and how soon can I start to make additional contributions? SG, Hampshire.
A. A spokesman for HMRC says: “At the Autumn Statement 2013 the Government announced its intention to introduce a scheme to allow pensioners to top up their Additional State Pension by paying a new class of voluntary National Insurance contribution, to be known as Class 3A. The scheme will open in October 2015 and will be available to all pensioners who reach State Pension age before the introduction of the single tier pension in April 2016. Class 3A will give pensioners an option to top up their pension in a way that will protect them from inflation and offer protection to surviving spouses. In particular, it could help women, and those who have been self-employed, who tend to have low Additional Pension entitlement. The Government will now work with stakeholders on the detailed design of the scheme. If the reader would like to register their interest in the scheme they should email email@example.com.” HMRC believes that on the basis of the information you have provided you may be eligible to buy the Class 3A contributions when these become available in October 2015. However, there will not be any detailed information on the arrangements for some time. HMRC advises that before you make any decision on additional payments to request a state pension forecast: for details on how to do this go to www.gov.uk/state-pension-statement.
Q. I received an automated phone call from Nationwide suggesting there might be something awry with my credit card and asking that I phone the number 0845 351 2265. When I did, an automated voice said: “Welcome to Santander. We are too busy to answer your call. Good bye.” Is this an attempted fraud? FA, London.
A. No, this was a legitimate enquiry and it seems that you may have written down the number incorrectly. A spokeswoman for Nationwide explains: “One of Nationwide’s customer contact numbers is: 0845 351 2255, and one of Santander’s customer contact numbers is:0845 351 2265. As you can see, there’s only one digit difference. We’ve checked all the information and believe our customers are being given the correct telephone number for contacting Nationwide in these circumstances. Consequently we can only presume this customer either mis-dialled or mis-heard the number. Our website has full contact details if a customer is unsure of who to speak to. Alternatively they can pop into one of our branches or contact us directly on 08457 778833.” Santander confirms that it was its number that you dialled, but was very busy at the time you called.
Q. We booked a holiday for four people to Cairo with Virgin Holidays that was scheduled to depart on 21 July. We were told that we must have holiday insurance, which we obtained with Staysure for £58. With the trouble in Cairo, we kept asking Virgin Holidays whether the holiday would be cancelled. If we had decided to cancel, we would have lost our money. Ten days before we were due to depart Virgin cancelled, saying that they could not let us travel under the circumstances. They refunded our money, but not our travel insurance because we booked with a third party. We cancelled our insurance with Staysure straightaway, but they would also not refund our money as it was less than 28 days before departure. They offered to carry our credit balance to a new holiday insurance policy, but only for three months. After we spent three months complaining, Staysure would agree only to repay half. I am now out of pocket through no fault of my own. Even though Virgin Holidays left it to late for us to book another holiday, they still refused to refund the money. If Virgin Holidays had done the decent thing and cancelled earlier I could have got a full refund from Staysure. Instead they kept hanging on in the hope that things would improve in Egypt. RA, Kent.
A. Neither Virgin Holidays nor Staysure will refund the balance of your insurance premium. A spokeswoman for Virgin Holidays said: ““Virgin Holidays is sorry that [the reader’s] and his family’s holiday plans to Cairo were disrupted due to the political situation in Egypt. Virgin Holidays don’t insist on our customers having travel insurance, but we strongly recommend customers have adequate cover to protect against a number of possible scenarios before and during a holiday such as ill health, loss of property and other unforeseen circumstances. As the situation in Egypt was outside of Virgin Holidays’ control we would not be able to consider claims for out of pocket expenses resulting from the cancellation of their holiday, although we were happy to provide a full refund [of the cost of the holiday].” A spokeswoman for Staysure said: “When the customer informed us that Virgin had cancelled his break and so he may not be travelling after all, we offered to defer his policy which would allow time for new travel arrangements to be made. When he then informed us he had not made alternative arrangements, we made a goodwill gesture equivalent to half of the premium paid. There is a point of principle here in that while the customer was given time to make new arrangements following Virgin’s cancellation of his holiday, his cover with us was still valid and had been in place since he purchased the policy on 23 April.”