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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to http://pennystockpaycheck.com for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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BT’s failure to connect … for six months

Category : Business

Half a year after moving into their new-build homes a group of owners are still waiting for landlines and internet coonections

When Margaret Thatcher died, her supporters said her privatisations had been an unmitigated success. No longer do we have to wait months for a telephone line to be connected, as was common in the bad old days before the hugely inefficient behemoth was given a dose of private sector efficiency.

That is the conventional narrative, but it sounds rather hollow for one group of homeowners in south London who have been waiting since last October to get a phone line installed into their new build homes. They have not been able to call family or friends and had no access to the internet for six months. Instead they have been relying on mobile phones and poorly connecting dongles to reach the outside world. In the week of Thatcher’s funeral, they are asking if there has been quite as much progress in the telecoms market as many think.

“When you see a new-build home, you can’t imagine it would take six months to get a phone line and broadband access installed in the capital city, but that is what has happened,” says one of the affected south-east London residents, Roland Rosser.

He and his wife, Pauline, who are retired, moved to their new home in Upper Norwood in January, and have been trying to get a phone line installed ever since. They wanted to move their TalkTalk service across from their previous home, but so far they are no nearer being connected.

“We were given a connection date of the 5 February,” Rosser says. “The man from BT Openreach said there were cabling problems, and nothing could be done. We have been ringing TalkTalk ever since, but they are reliant on Openreach getting their act together. Openreach won’t talk to us as we are not their direct customer, so the wait continues.”

He says the first residents to move into the development are in the same boat. None of the 23 houses has been connected, even though there are telephone sockets wired into each.

“We have been relying on mobile phones for calls, which is expensive, and to get emails I have to hang my laptop outside a window to get a decent signal for the dongle. I went to the developer’s office this week and the latest is that we have been given a day in early May. Will it happen, who knows?”

If the experience of other customers is anything to go by, the residents of Upper Norwood have only a 50/50 chance of being connected on the promised day. Guardian Money is receiving lots of similar complaints from people unable to get their home connected, with waits of several months commonplace. The delays are so bad that the advice for anyone who relies on a home phone and broadband is not to buy a new-build property unless the line has already been

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Why is Axa stalling on my car claim?

Category : Business

Six months after my accident, I have still heard nothing from Axa – and have had to pay to store the car

My Toyota Yaris was hit in a supermarket car park, smashed beyond economical repair, in August 2012. My boyfriend was driving – I was unwell – and as he was not a named driver, he was only covered for third party claims. There were no such claims as it was entirely the other driver’s fault.

But because he was driving, neither my insurer nor the legal expenses cover on my policy would get involved. The other driver was insured by Swiftcover, part of Axa. I had to tackle them on my own.

My road tax and insurance ran out at the end of August so I had to pay to store the car, awaiting an Axa inspection. Despite frequent reminders, I heard nothing from Axa. In the meantime, I could not afford another car and after paying for four months’ storage, I sold the car as scrap for £500.

Now, more than six months after the incident, I have still heard nothing from Axa. KL, Teddington, Middx

Motor insurers are notoriously difficult when dealing with legitimate claims from other parties. In this case, it was doubly difficult as both your insurer and legal expenses provider washed their hands of you because your boyfriend was covered under his own policy only for third-party risks when driving another car.

There was initially some confusion over who would obtain the CCTV footage from the car park. But this does not explain the six months of delay.

Axa owned up swiftly when we called. It blamed an “inexcusable lack of communication” and added: “We didn’t reply. We didn’t give the service we should have. It was unacceptable.” The only reason it could come up with was that it was hit in August by a “surge of events”, mostly relating to last summer’s bad weather.

Axa has now agreed to pay you the full value of the car – it calculated this slightly higher than your estimate – less the scrap value, plus storage costs and a £10 a day public transport allowance: £3,917. It will also add £200 to compensate you for its poor service.

This week’s column is guest-written by Tony Levene.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@guardian.co.uk or write to Bachelor & Brignall, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number

Government urged to take action to stop nuisance phone calls and texts

Category : Business

Consumer rights group Which? blames claims management companies for plaguing people with unwanted communications

The government must take immediate action to curb the spread of nuisance calls and texts, a leading consumer rights group has urged. Which? blames claims management companies for plaguing consumers with the majority of the UK’s unwanted communications.

The organisation says the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading must set up a joint taskforce to stem the problem, with a particular focus on the personal injury and payment protection insurance claims industry.

Research published by Which? suggests that seven in 10 people received unsolicited calls and four in ten received an unwanted text during the last three months.

The watchdog found that one in four of its members who made a claim on their car insurance were contacted by a claims management company within three months. Nearly half of these were contacted in a week, and many were bombarded by repeated calls and texts – 22% received 10 or more texts and 12% received 10 or more calls.

Currently, a number of leading insurers all take fees for referring customers to claims management companies (with customers’ permission), including: the AA, Admiral, Direct Line, eSure, Lloyds TSB, Tesco and Zurich.

But from April 2013, new legislation will ban any insurer from receiving payment for passing on customers’ details to a claims management company or a legal firm following a personal injury claim, although this doesn’t cover non-injury claims such as car repairs.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: “Unwanted calls or texts are not just a nuisance, they can be intrusive and distressing. Many of us have been bombarded with spurious claims of PPI or injury compensation, and people are telling us they are totally fed up with this nuisance and want to see action.

“We want the regulators to work together to properly police and punish those responsible for unwanted calls and texts, using the existing law. If they are unwilling or unable to enforce the rules, the government should step in.”

Earlier this year Ofcom monitored a six-month period in 2012 and found that 71% of people with a landline received an unwanted marketing call and 63% encountered a recorded message.

Which? says a new joint taskforce should “proactively and forensically” scrutinise the activities of claims management companies over the next 12 weeks to expose the source of the problem and punish those found breaking regulators’ rules with substantial fines and suspension of licences. It also wants to see tougher regulation from the government to clean up the claims management industry.

The organisation advises consumers to never opt in to third party marketing when they take out an insurance policy and to always tell their insurer that they don’t want to be contacted by a claims management firm or a legal firm.

Consumers can also register with the Telephone Preference Service (an organisation run by the Direct Marketing Association on behalf of phones regulator Ofcom), which can help cut nuisance calls by a third. If you are registered with the TPS and still receive calls, you can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office on 0300 123 3000. You can also forward spam texts to your mobile phone network provider.

No credit due to husband who hid debt

Category : Business

Husband’s credit rating to blame for two mortgage rejections

We tried to remortgage in August 2012 but we had two applications rejected, so we checked our credit scores. Mine was OK, but my husband’s was poor.

My husband took out a Lloyds TSB personal loan in 2008 and has never missed a repayment. However, the credit file showed he had missed numerous payments, which cut his score. We tried to put it right with many phone calls to Lloyds TSB, where he was variously misinformed and fobbed off. He paid off the loan in full in November and was told that this would resolve the issue, to no avail.

We put our complaints in writing to Lloyds in December 2012. My husband received a phone call from the complaints department the same month, accepting responsibility for the error, offering £100 as an apology for the inconvenience, and assuring him the matter would be resolved quickly. This has not been the case.

This is causing significant financial stress – I am expecting a baby, and we are stuck on a high SVR mortgage. JN, London

You wrote to us on behalf of your husband but, unfortunately, you did not have the full picture. Once we became involved your husband admitted to you that he had run into some problems paying off his debts two years ago. He had not told you

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Gym chains forced to relax contract terms

Category : Business

Contracts at Bannatyne Fitness, David Lloyd Leisure and Fitness First deemed ‘unfair’ by OFT

Three of Britain’s biggest gym chains have had to change their contracts to make it easier for people to cancel, after the Office of Fair Trading ruled their terms and practices were unfair.

Bannatyne Fitness, David Lloyd Leisure and Fitness First have all been forced to change their contracts after they were found to be making it difficult or impossible for people who were injured or made redundant to exit their gym agreements early.

Members of the gym groups are now able to cancel their contracts early should their circumstances change in a way that makes attendance at the gym difficult or unaffordable.

The gym groups have also had to reduce the notice period needed to cancel contracts that are longer than one year, and will no longer be able to describe membership as being of a fixed duration if the contract automatically continues on a rolling basis after the initial membership period has expired.

Bannatyne’s was also singled out for chasing gym-goers with “misleading” debt collection letters that sometimes threatened recipients with what appeared to be official-looking court documents, or making other unsubstantiated claims about action that had been taken. It will now stop sending these letters and is reviewing its other debt collection letters.

“Millions of people are members of gyms, and a membership contract can easily be a financial commitment of more than £500 per annum,” said Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the OFT’s goods and consumer group. “We were concerned that contracts could unfairly lock people in if their circumstances changed, forcing them to continue paying even if they had lost their job.

“We welcome these changes from Bannatyne’s, David Lloyd and Fitness First. As well as making contract terms clearer, the revised contracts also grant members, and prospective members, more flexibility.”

The action taken against the three gym chains is part of an ongoing investigation the OFT started in January 2012, and stems from a court case involving Ashbourne Management Services, which draws up agreements and collects payments for gyms.

The judge in that case concluded a contract was unfair if it ran for longer than 12 months and did not allow the consumer to cancel with 30 days’ notice and a moderate penalty. The OFT is looking at gym contracts in light of this ruling. It confirmed it is continuing its investigation into some other companies, believed to include LA Fitness, and will provide an update in the next few weeks.

In January 2012, LA Fitness caused a storm of protest after an article in the Guardian told the story of Hannah, a reader from Billericay in Essex, who was seven months pregnant and wrote to the paper after her husband lost his job, leaving the couple living on benefits.

Hannah and her husband, who were about to move 12 miles away from their nearest gym, had been LA Fitness members for seven years and asked the gym chain to reconsider their two-year contract. But the gym insisted the couple pay the remaining 15 months, a total of £780. A protest by thousands on Twitter helped persuade the company to back down, and raised further questions about the fairness of long-term gym contracts.

Some gym chains made changes to their contracts once the OFT investigation started. The watchdog closed its investigation into Virgin Active in April 2012 after the company relaxed some of its terms.

A spokesperson for Bannatyne’s said: “Bannatyne Health Clubs are uniformly operating under contracts that meet the OFT recommendations with regard to length of contracts and provisions relating to cancellation due to illness.

“As a major national operator we have never used external debt collecting agencies and our contracts have never been greater than the 12-month maximum term proposed by the OFT.”

David Lloyd Leisure said: “Following extensive discussions with the OFT, DLL introduced improvements to the flexibility of its membership contract terms and conditions from December 2012.

“Primarily, DLL simplified – and further clarified – the ability for members to join either with short- or longer-term commitments and to switch between the two, as well as expanding those circumstances in which membership can be suspended or ended.”

A Fitness First spokesman said: “We have happily accepted all recommendations from the OFT to make contract terms more transparent, allowing more flexibility for our members.”

Redress Claims customers who never saw their cash

Category : Business

Customers who paid Redress Claims to get PPI money find they are out of pocket

The letters are depressingly similar:

London RT of London was cold called by a company called Redress Claims which promised to reclaim mis-sold payment protection insurance for her on a no-win no-fee basis. “I paid £450 for them to look into potential claims on each credit card and was told I’d get the money back if the claim was unsuccessful. I’ve never received any claim money, or a refund.”

AB of Humberside paid Redress Claims £1,700 in 2011 after being cold called. “We trusted them, as we are desperate financially. They did obtain £958 for mis-sold PPI on a mortgage for which they charged an additional fee of £287. And £1,419, £608 of which they pocketed despite the promise in their terms and conditions that they would deduct no more than 25%.”

SG from Coventry found that £3,855 had been removed from her credit card after a cold caller from Redress Claims gave her a hard-sell in April 2011. “I never received any bill or acknowledgement of this payment and they’ve since demanded further payments,” she says.

PR of Southport, Merseyside paid a similar upfront fee which he was told was refundable if his six claims were unsuccessful. One claim was won but he was told to pay an extra £149 per claim to a company called Credit Clear Services to have the outstanding five resolved.

R E-H found £3,245 removed from his account, £590 of it for invalid claims. “I made more than 20 attempts to get the £590 back but none of my messages was replied to. They managed to get me £120 back from one credit card issuer and £32 on another and charged me £100 fee for each. Now I’ve had a letter from Credit Clear Services telling me my contract has passed to them and I must pay £99 for them to proceed.”

After a long overdue investigation by the Ministry of Justice, Redress Claims’s licence to trade was suspended last month due to breaches of the code of conduct. “We will take further action if breaches are not corrected,” says an MoJ spokesman.

Given that a suspension can be lifted after three months if a company gets its act together, and given that Redress Claims will have made a consoling profit in the 18 months it has been allowed to operate, this is unlikely to pain its director, Naman Hussain.

Suspension does not stop companies dealing with refund requests from customers whose cases are pending, and the MoJ recommends they write asking for one.

Simon Helliwell, director of Credit Clear Services, which provided “auditing and legal services” for the company, declares that Hussain will be pursuing “other interests” and would not seek to reinstate the licence when the three months is up.

“We’ve agreed to take the thousands of unresolved Redress Claims’ cases off them for no extra charge and will proceed on a no-win no-fee basis,” says Helliwell, who insisted that “in comparison with many in the market Redress Claims was not that bad”.

He was vague, however, about what percentage of any claim would be deducted in fees. “We’ll abide by Redress Claims’s terms and conditions,” he says and admitted he didn’t know what percentage these specified.

As compensation claims for mis-sold PPI can be made for free with a form provided by the Financial Ombudsman Service, anyone who paid Redress Claims by credit card should consider applying for a refund from their card issuer, which is held jointly liable under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Some debit card companies also offer chargeback if a company is in breach of contract.

Sadly, though, many are likely to be left out of pocket and will have learnt never to hand bank details to a company that cold calls.

Gift voucher law must be changed | Nils Pratley

Category : Business

Protecting consumers ought to be the priority and it is hard to believe HMV’s fate would have been different had it been obliged to tell Christmas shoppers it couldn’t sell them vouchers

Administrator Deloitte has studied HMV’s business and, thankfully, decided that gift vouchers can be honoured after all. The saga, though, feels unsatisfactory. It is clearly deeply unfair that consumers, who cannot be expected to monitor the financial health of high street names, are put in the position of unsecured creditors when administration happens.

It is also a nonsense that HMV, which warned before Christmas of “material uncertainties facing the business” and a probable breach of banking covenants, could be free to continue selling vouchers.

The law should be changed to stop the latter abuse in future. The only serious objection is that vulnerable retailers might hasten their demise by advertising their frailties and, potentially, losing custom.

Yes, that’s a risk but protecting the consumer ought to be the priority. In HMV’s case, the outstanding vouchers are worth £6m-£7m. It is hard to believe the fate of the company would have been any different if it had been obliged to tell Christmas shoppers: sorry, it couldn’t sell them a voucher at that time.

Do I have to pay £330 for new airline ticket to change name?

Category : Business

My passport says I’m Thomas, but I booked the flight as Tom; surely the airline should not make me buy a whole new ticket

I booked flights to Chile via Brazil and used the name Tom, whereas my passport bears the name Thomas. This was not a problem on the flight out to Rio, but when I checked in for the Rio to Santiago leg I was told that since the names didn’t match I would have to buy a new ticket at an extra cost of £330. I work in fraud detection and would never make an issue over such a discrepancy. TF, London

Airlines have, for obvious reasons, become increasingly neurotic about security. They are free to set their own policy about how precisely names on tickets and passports match up, according to the International Air Travel Association, which is why one waved you through and the other didn’t.

“We therefore recommend that the name on the ticket should match the name on the passport to minimise the likelihood of being denied boarding,” says a spokesman. Under US rules, however, tickets have to bear the exact name, including any middle names, as it appears on your passport. Nicknames are all very well at home, but it’s best to leave them behind and travel formally when taking to the skies.

If you need help email Anna Tims at your.problems@observer.co.uk or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include an address and phone number. Unfortunately we cannot respond to emails individually.

‘Unfair’ supermarkets could face hefty fines under new watchdog

Category : Business

Groceries Code Adjudicator vows to crack down on large supermarkets which abuse their power

Large UK supermarkets which abuse their power in the marketplace and treat suppliers “unfairly” could be fined by a new watchdog under changes announced by the Department for Business.

In a U-turn hailed by campaigners, ministers have bowed to pressure from MPs and groups lobbying on behalf of farmers and other food suppliers to toughen up the new Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA).

The proposed legislative framework originally specified that the adjudicator should have only the power to “name and shame” any stores which flout the code. The business secretary, Vince Cable, reserved the right to introduce fines at a later date if the system did not work.

But the competition minister, Jo Swinson, announced on Tuesday that the adjudicator would have the power, from the start, to fine supermarkets which abuse their power in the marketplace – for example by forcing down wholesale prices to below cost levels in a move that would penalise suppliers.

Swinson said: “Where supermarkets are breaking the rules with suppliers and treating them unfairly the adjudicator will make sure that they are held to account.

“We have heard the views of the stakeholders who were keen to give the adjudicator a power to fine, and recognise that this change would give the adjudicator more teeth to enforce the Groceries Code.”

The Groceries Code applies to the 10 UK retailers with a turnover in the groceries market in excess of £1bn.

The watchdog will be able to arbitrate disputes between retailers and suppliers, investigate complaints from direct and indirect suppliers, and hold to account – and if necessary fine – retailers who break the rules.

The GCA bill is in the final stages of its passage through parliament, which has been far from an easy ride.

The issue of fines dominated its second reading in the House of Commons in November as MPs from all parties lined up to demand that the government added powers to the GCA to impose financial penalties as soon as it was set up.

The level of fines are still to be agreed, however, and will be determined by Cable in the coming weeks.

Charities welcomed the government’s decision to give the watchdog “teeth”.

Murray Worthy, supermarkets campaigner for the anti-poverty charity War on Want, said: “We welcome the government’s announcement that its supermarket watchdog will have the power to impose fines for bullying suppliers.

“This breakthrough has only come through dedicated campaigning, with members of the public across the country pushing MPs for action to curb supermarkets’ excessive power.

“It is a great step towards securing fair treatment for workers around the world who pick, pack and grow our food.”

Paul Chandler, chief executive of charity Traidcraft, added: “We are delighted that the government has agreed that the supermarket watchdog should have the power to fine.

“It will reassure farmers in developing countries that it is worth protesting if supermarkets make unreasonable demands on them, such as changing the price or the amount ordered at the last minute.”

He said the charity’s campaigners had been “pressing the government for months – and the minister herself praised our supporters for their ‘tireless campaigning’ – even taking our tiny ‘toothless watchdog’ to the House of Commons to illustrate the point.”

Payday loans can put credit rating at risk

Category : Business

Unauthorised overdrafts tend to cost more, but borrowers who repay a payday loan may face a high price later

Cash-strapped borrowers who are tempted into taking out a payday loan to avoid the astronomical costs of an unauthorised overdraft could face even worse problems later on, the Financial Ombudsman has warned.

Research by consumer advice website watchmywallet.co.uk shows it is cheaper to take out a small short-term loan with Wonga at a rate of 4214% APR than go into an unauthorised overdraft with any of the major banks. The website replicated the situation of someone running out of cash just before their payday by comparing the cost of borrowing £11 for two days from Wonga, and through an unauthorised overdraft with six high street banks. While the Wonga loan would cost £5.83, RBS and NatWest would charge £12, Santander would charge £20, Barclays £22 and HSBC £25. Only Lloyds TSB comes anywhere near Wonga, charging £6.

The figures support claims by Wonga that using an APR or annual percentage rate calculated over an entire year to show how much its loans cost is unrepresentative, because the loans last a maximum of 30 days.

Watch My Wallet editor Sean O’Meara said: “This research just goes to show how excessive bank charges are. We certainly don’t recommend Wonga loans as a reasonable or cost-effective way to manage your debts, but the fact that a 4214% interest-rate loan can be cheaper than going £11 over your overdraft for just a few days is something that we believe should be brought to people’s attention This is the small print at the bottom of bank statements that people rarely read – and it’s the kind of thing that can drive people further and further into debt if they’re not careful.”

However, those who use payday loans to avoid unauthorised overdraft fees could have other problems. The Financial Ombudsman Service told The Observer that while it has had few complaints about the loans, it has seen evidence mortgage lenders discriminate against payday loan borrowers.

“The number of complaints we receive about payday loans is relatively low but we have had a number of inquiries from consumers who have been told by their lender that previous payday loans they have taken out – and paid off on time – have and will continue to have a detrimental impact on their credit rating,” said a spokesman for the service.

Credit reference agency Experian lists payday loans separately rather than including them in a general overview of borrowing history. James Jones, head of consumer affairs for the agency, said that while some lenders do not differentiate between payday loans and other forms of credit, “some high street lenders might see the fact that you’ve resorted to payday credit as a sign that your finances are under pressure … if a particular lender’s experience is that customers who take out payday loans are more likely to miss their repayments, this will be reflected in their credit scoring”.