Q. I have a pension, the subject of a Section 32 Buyout, held by Aviva. This will mature soon. Last September I received a letter from Aviva confirming this, explaining that “We will write to you no later than six weeks before your retirement date” with details of the payments I am due to receive. Aviva has failed to do this. A month before the maturity date I phoned Aviva, which said that “due to a technical problem” it was not possible to provide me with any figures, but that I would receive full details within 10 days. It again failed to do this. I phoned three weeks later and was promised the figure within 48 hours – but then received a phone call shortly after to say it would take a further 10 days to provide the information. NH, Devon.
A. A ‘Section 32 Buyout’ occurs where a pension held with an occupational scheme is transferred to an individually purchased annuity. This allows pension beneficiaries to transfer the proceeds of a scheme to a fund under their own control where they change employment, or where the previous scheme is wound-up by its trustees. In your case, the concept of having ‘control’ of your fund was in contrast with your experience with Aviva. The difficulties you experienced with Aviva continued after we took up your problem with the company. Despite us being promised that the matter would be resolved, you received a further letter from Aviva when you were due to begin receiving your payments from Aviva instead stating that “there are only a few weeks until the member is due to retire”. It included a projected figure for your annuity payments, which was significantly different from that previously supplied by Aviva. The insurer had wrongly sent you a standard letter that was not appropriate to your situation. From this point on, communications with Aviva improved and you were allocated a specific contact person at the company, with agreement reached on your payment schedule. A spokeswoman for Aviva says: “Unfortunately mistakes were made in managing this customer’s retirement benefits, and for this we fully apologise. Where we make a mistake we aim to learn from it and resolve it as quickly as possible, and importantly to ensure there is no disadvantage to our customer. In this particular case we are backdating any annuity payments, with interest, to the customer’s chosen retirement date and have arranged an additional payment of £200 in recognition of the poor service received on this occasion.”
Q. I have inherited shares worth about £15,000 in the US company Dr Pepper Snapple, administered by Computershare. Although I have inherited other shares administered by Computershare in both the UK and Jersey, this paperwork is not accepted by the US: a Medallion Signature Guarantee is essential to transfer the shares to me. No stockbroker or bank I have approached would deal with the matter, saying it was too difficult. SM, Norfolk.
A. Shares in US companies can only be transferred where the signature of the person receiving the stocks is guaranteed, using a ‘Medallion’ imprint or stamp to indicate the issuing agency is a member of a Medallion signature guarantee programme. These steps are required as a fraud prevention measure. Obtaining a Medallion signature guarantee is a straightforward process in the US and Canada, with over 7,000 agencies registered to participate. The situation is very different in the UK. The US Embassy directs people to two firms that it says provide the Medallion Signature Guarantee service. One of these is Lester Aldridge solicitors in Bournemouth, who you had already contacted and is no longer providing the service. The other is Title Research in London. We spoke to Title Research, who told us there have been serious problems with operating this service since November, when the main provider of the relevant stamps withdrew from the market. As a result, Title Research has a backlog of existing customers that will take three to four months to clear. It hopes to take on new clients again after this time, but at present has suspended the service to new clients. The Securities and Exchange Commission – the US securities regulator – suggests that some US banks with offices in the UK may offer the service here.
Q. I booked and paid for a holiday in the Canaries online with Low Cost Holidays earlier this year. A few days later, I was phoned by the company to inform me that the plane seats I had booked had now been sold and that I would have to pay up to £92 extra for different seats. I found this unacceptable and in accordance with the Distance Selling Regulations decided to cancel my holiday and asked for a full refund. I received an email telling me that the refund would be issued within seven to ten working days. This did not happen. Another email was sent to me, two weeks later, again promising a refund within seven to ten days. This also did not happen. It is now 56 days since I made the initial booking and 36 working days since I was first promised a refund within seven to ten working days. I have phoned Low Cost Holidays repeatedly, holding for over 30 minutes each time. The company tells me it has had ‘systems problems’ for over a month. DS, West Sussex.
A. Low Cost Holidays has now processed your full refund.
Q. Last year (Questions of Cash, 5 June, 2010) you answered a question from a reader about the collapse of airline Fly Whoosh. You explained that as the company operating the aircraft was based in Poland and that as the UK company selling tickets had closed and appeared to have no assets, customers who booked cancelled flights were unable to recover their money. However, when I bought a ticket with Fly Whoosh, most of the price was for UK taxes and airport charges. Surely I should be able to recover these from Dundee airport? EC, by email.
A. Dundee airport’s spokeswoman says: “Dundee airport does not have any connection with Fly Whoosh and would have no responsibility for refunds.” Our guess is that the taxes and airport charges you paid were never forwarded by Fly Whoosh to the relevant authorities.