Questions of Cash: The Independent

Q. Last month, we had a water leak. We have paid HomeServe for years and never claimed. We rang them and at first they said they were not responsible. We rang a plumber, who verified the leak was their responsibility. While he was there, we rang HomeServe again, who told us to pull out our kitchen units and they would send one of their plumbers. The plumber who was with us said it was ridiculous to pull out the units: he said if he did the work, he would establish where the leak was, remove a few bricks, mend the pipe and put back the bricks. The plumber HomeServe sent turned on the stop tap and saw the water gush out. I told him what first plumber had said, but this plumber said we don’t work outside and to give him a call when the units were out and he would mend it. We are pensioners and did not know what to do, so we asked would they take the units out. The plumber said no and left. We did not know what to do: it was very hard getting water out of bath to flush the toilet and for kettles and cooking. So we asked the first plumber to make the repairs. Why did we pay for an insurance policy for years that doesn’t cover repairs of pipes that are under floor boards or behind units? We now have a bill from the plumber for £157. MA, Yorkshire.

A HomeServe has agreed to cover the full cost of the bill from the plumber you engaged and is sending you a cheque for £157. A spokeswoman says: “HomeServe strives to treat all of our customers fairly and we are sincerely sorry that we have fallen short on this occasion.”

Q. I am trying to repay a debt with HSBC, which comprises what I regard as excessive charges. I have been trying unsuccessfully for several years to get them to write-off these charges. Over the years they have charged me over £8,000, which has caused me serious financial consequences. They have shown no regard for my current financial situation and when they write to me it is always to say that they are sorry, but that there is nothing they can do. I think it is morally wrong that an institution of their size can make such enormous charges. I have a mountain of debt, which will take me a lifetime to repay. I have been bombarded with phone calls insisting that I pay the arrears immediately even though I have explained my dire financial situation. I have been told that unless I immediately pay the arrears I owe in three monthly instalments of £170 – which would cause my family real hardship – then I must pay the total outstanding amount immediately. SM, by email.

A You have a Debt Management Plan with the Consumer Credit Counselling Service and have produced an income and expenditure statement. This shows that you have a monthly income of £2,573. Your monthly expenditure includes mortgage repayments of £556; council tax £175; gas £150; water £59; phone £55; house insurance £48; life insurance £32; motor expenses £234; food £650; other family and personal expenses £250; and repayment of a family loan £25. While you argue that this does not leave you with sufficient funds to repay the HSBC debt, the bank believes that it does. A spokesman for HSBC says: “[The] completed income and expenditure statement provided by the CCCS shows that she is on a very tight budget, but also that her loan payments are affordable.” HSBC also says that it is incorrect to suggest that the balance has been accumulated through bank charges: it reports the outstanding loan balance is £16,616, of which only £3,765 arises from default charges. We requested that these default charges be cancelled to assist with making the debt repayment more affordable, but HSBC rejected this. The bank’s spokesman says: “All I can offer, and on an ongoing basis, is that if [the reader’s] financial situation changes and her statement is no longer a good reflection of her income and out-goings, then we will again look at her loan with us – with one option being a cancellation of some of her debt.” However, subsequent to this you have been told by HMRC that it has overpaid your tax credits – as a result you are losing £240 a month in tax credits and will have to repay £1,700 that you have already received. HSBC has agreed to reconsider your repayment obligations on this basis.

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