Questions of Cash: The Independent

Q.  My Halifax Reward Current Account is supposed to be credited with £5 a month in return for me making a payment into my account every month.  But I did not receive my reward in May.  I phoned Halifax, which said that because of the May Day Bank Holiday my payments had gone in one day earlier than usual, on April 30 – so I was not entitled to the reward and was penalised because the bank chose to make the transfer early.  I think other Halifax customers should know about this.  MC, by email.


A.  Your £5 has been credited in this instance, but the situation looks likely to recur.  Halifax explains: “The terms and conditions of the account are very straightforward – if £1,000 is paid in that month, Halifax will credit £5.  If the money isn’t credited, the £5 isn’t rewarded.”  However, it understands the reasons why, technically, you did not conform with this, so has credited your account with £5 as a gesture of goodwill.  But it says to you – and other readers – that to ensure you continue to receive the reward for months where there is a bank holiday Monday in the first week you should change your payment instructions to your bank to ensure they do not make the transfer early.  You respond by saying that the date in which your pensions are paid is beyond your control.  Sadly, influencing Halifax on the way it calculates the basis on which it pays its rewards is similarly beyond our influence.


Q. I have an ongoing dispute with Carphone Warehouse. I was a pay-as-you-go customer on the Fresh Mobile network, which closed in March. I had an £8 credit balance when the network was closed. Fresh Mobile assured me I would receive a cheque when the service ceased. I was later informed that I would not be refunded because the terms and conditions did not provide for this. But I do not believe Carphone Warehouse was entitled to keep my money. This must have affected many other customers. DW, by email.

A. We have had several complaints about this. As with other readers, Carphone Warehouse has agreed to refund the balance on your account “as a gesture of goodwill”, but we share your concern about whether this is sufficient. We asked Carphone Warehouse whether it was satisfied that it was legally in the right not to automatically refund all credit balances. Its spokesman, Christopher Baines, said: “Yes, we are confident this is lawful as we took all reasonable steps to outline how [customers] could keep their credit. [We] gave customers a choice: i.e. they could switch to Talk Mobile, whereby they could keep their credit or, if they wish [they could] switch to another operator – [in which case] we would unfortunately be unable to transfer their credit.”
We then asked the Trading Standards Institute for its legal opinion. It said: “This is a matter of contract law. [Fresh Mobile] customers have a binding contract with that supplier in the terms of the contract. Now that supplier has ceased trading. But has it ceased to exist? Probably not. So a customer who has credit with that company has a right to the return of that credit as a creditor.
“If the company has been taken over as a going concern then customers could pursue the company, in this case Fresh Mobile, for their credits.”
On this basis we asked Carphone Warehouse for a further response. It said: “The Fresh telephony service was provided by Fresh Telecom Limited, a member of the Best Buy Europe Distributions Limited group of companies, together with (among others) The Carphone Warehouse Limited and Talk Mobile Limited, the provider of the Talkmobile telephony service (together, the “Best Buy Group”). Last year, the Best Buy Group decided to consolidate its mobile services under the Talkmobile brand and, as a result, the Fresh mobile service was ceased.
“All customers were given ample notice of the cessation of the Fresh Service (60 days) and they were offered the opportunity to migrate to the Talkmobile service. Such a migration provided additional benefits such as discounted calls to other Talkmobile customers and the ability to roam. Transferring customers also saw any unused credit on their Fresh account being transferred onto their new Talkmobile account.
“Customers who elected not to transfer to the Talkmobile service had still received 60 days’ notice of the cessation of the service in accordance with their terms and conditions of use and would have had those 60 days to ensure that they used up any remaining credit prior to the service being disconnected.
“[The telecoms regulator] Ofcom was made aware of the process through which the Fresh telephony service was being ceased and raised no objections at the time. We believe that great care was taken to ensure all Fresh customers were given due notice. We can confirm that where individuals contacted us with concerns about their credit, goodwill refunds were given corresponding to any balances left on their accounts as a thank you for their custom.” We leave readers to reach their own conclusions.


Q.  I have just cancelled my AOL account and a very rude employee informed me that even though I had just paid for another full month’s usage of AOL, cancelling meant I lost all of my rights to the month I had paid for.  He informed me that I couldn’t expect to get what I had paid for if I had cancelled it.  JP, Kettering.


A.  The AOL UK broadband service was purchased by CarphoneWarehouse in 2006 – which may explain why your problem sounds similar to the previous question.  You, too, paid for a service and found the provider declined to make a refund of charges paid in advance.  The service is now part of the TalkTalk operation that demerged from CarphoneWarehouse.  A representative of AOL Broadband says: “we don’t issue refunds of payments taken prior to cancellation.  However, given the behaviour of the AOL cancellations agent, which is noted in the complaint, I have agreed to refund the monthly charge in question.”


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