Questions of Cash: September 2015

Q. I need some help dealing with British Gas. My 91 year old father moved into sheltered accommodation in May last year. I sent final readings to British Gas for his house and his account was closed. His house was put on the market. But debt collecting agency Wescot Services is now demanding payment of £434.26 on behalf of British Gas, covering a period during which the property was empty.  British Gas started to send bills to the empty property addressed to ‘The Occupier’. They were large bills. The first one, dated 1 September, was for £243.52. I contacted British Gas by email to point out that the property was empty and no gas or electricity was being used and got a totally incoherent reply which seemed to blame it all on the standing charge. They still wanted the money, although from whom was not clear.  The property itself was owned by a trust at the time and I suggested British Gas contact the trustees. I contacted the trustees about this and suggested that they challenge British Gas about the bill. Unfortunately they did not. They appear to have done nothing about it at all.  The property was empty from 11 May 2014 to 14 November. British Gas want £434.26 for this period. They are demanding it from the trustees and now the trustees have written to me suggesting that my father should pay it.  Westcot is now chasing this on behalf of British Gas.  The property has since been sold, the trust is now wound-up and my father was one of the beneficiaries.  But it is clearly wrong to expect him to pay the bill for a time when he did not live there and when no energy was being consumed. AC, by email.

A. British Gas has agreed not to pursue you further for this debt.  You cleared the account on the property in May last year – and in fact overpaid the account by £47.31, which British Gas repaid by cheque.  British Gas should have then closed the account with your father.  Instead, it continued to generate estimated bills based on your father’s previous energy usage.  This led to the total outstanding bill of £434.26.  British Gas is now in contact with the trust that owned the property, which has agreed to settle the actual bill – which should be much smaller than the estimates.  The spokeswoman adds: “We apologise for this mistake and any distress caused.”

Q. I am a widower, my wife died eight years ago.  Until the last Budget my inheritance allowance was £325,000 for me, plus £325,000 for my wife, providing a combined allowance of £650,000.  But under the Budget my allowance is now £500,000.  What is the additional allowance for my wife now?  BR, by email.

A. Gill Smith, head of private client services at accountants Moore Stephens responds: “From 6 April 2017 there will be an additional IHT nil-rate band when a residence is passed on death to a direct descendant, as well as the existing £325,000 band. This will be £100,000 in 2017/18; then £125,000 in 2018/19; then £150,000 in 2019/20; and £175,000 in 2020/21. After that it will increase in line with the consumer process index. Your total nil-rate band will therefore not be £500,000 until 6 April 2020. Your wife’s additional nil-rate band will transfer to you on your death, at the then current rate, irrespective of when she died, so by 2020/21 your total nil-rate band will be £1 million (assuming that none of your wife’s basic nil-rate band was used on her death, because she left all her estate to you). The additional band will be withdrawn at a rate of £1 for every £2 by which your estate exceeds £2 million.”

Q. I was overcharged by CheapOair for a flight booking, travelling from Faro to Luton.  I have asked why the amount stated on the booking confirmation was different from that charged to me on my credit card statement.  CheapOair informed me it would make a refund in five to 14 days, but it has not done so.  The amount is small – £7.53 – but I wonder if this situation is happening with other readers?  JP, by email.

A. We have not received any similar complaints from other readers.  We took your complaint up with CheapOair, which is now processing the refund.  A spokesman says: “CheapOair has spoken directly to [the reader] to apologise directly for any frustration caused when seeking a refund for £7.53. CheapOair is reviewing its customer service process for handling refunds, and its customer communications. [The reader’s] experience does not reflect the high standards that we strive to offer.”


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