Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
N.W. writes: I read your recent article regarding transfers from Barclays Smart Investor and hope you can help us. My wife and I requested the transfer of our stocks and shares ISA to Hargreaves Lansdown months ago since when nothing has happened.
Barclays has had serious problems with the running of its investment offshoot ever since it switched customers from its former stockbroking service which seemed to have far fewer problems. Investors found the new scheme was less efficient to the point that it refused to let them buy or sell shares, rendering it pretty much useless and leading to a queue to leave.
Issues: A backlog of investors leaving Barclays has made the problem worse
That is one of the problems Smart Investor has had. The number of people exiting generated a backlog, putting pressure on staff and leading to even more problems.
You have told me you rang Barclays many times, waiting half an hour or more for an answer, only to find you could not speak to anyone who actually handled requests to switch to rival firms.
The closest Barclays came to giving a specific reason for the delay in handling transfers for you and your wife was when staff told you the National Insurance number it held for your wife was not the same as the number quoted by Hargreaves Lansdown. You checked and updated the details, but months later Barclays was still telling Hargreaves Lansdown the two records did not match.
Letters from Barclays provided a fresh layer of frustration. One acknowledged a complaint from you and promised an update a few weeks later. But what arrived was a further letter, itself promising an update a month from then.
I asked officials at the bank’s head office to look into all this. They accepted their systems had recorded an incorrect National Insurance number for your wife.
They told me: ‘The accounts have now been fully transferred and we have offered a gesture of goodwill.’
So far, so good. Except you told me you had received no such offer.
You added: ‘I will never deal with this company again.’ It turned out Barclays had sent £250 to your account, but nothing for your wife. You were told her complaint was being investigated separately.
At this point Barclays tried to refuse to speak to me because your wife had complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service. I had to point out the complaint had been made months ago since when Barclays had certainly discussed it with me in some detail. The bank then changed its mind, saying your wife’s ISA transfer had now been completed.
The bottom line is that the Ombudsman awarded your wife £250 on top of the same amount the bank had already offered.
The Ombudsman ruled that even if records showed an incorrect National Insurance number, this did not justify or explain a delay of six months in making the transfer which the bank’s own guidelines say should take six to eight weeks.
Something went horribly wrong last year in this department of the bank. I have had more complaints about this than other well known issues such as Payment Protection Insurance.
It will take a long time for Barclays to repair the damage to its reputation among customers who used its investment service.
I got dates wrong, but still had to pay for villa
T.M. writes: I booked a villa in Tenerife for my family of seven, paying €3,700 (about £3,100) via Booking.com. To my horror, I quickly realised I had got the dates wrong. I decided to cancel and rebook as Booking.com allows.
The mistake was mine and I fully expected a cancellation fee, but the villa owner said he would not refund anything except for €100 for cleaning charges. He said the €3,700 rental was a ‘special offer’, though there was no mention of this on the website. I offered to accept a date later in the year, but he refused.
I complained to Booking.com, but was told cancellation fees are applied at the owner’s discretion. This is true, but it was only made clear after I had paid. I am 73 and the holiday was to celebrate our Golden Wedding.
Refusal: The owner of the Villa de Fanabe in Tenerife would not budge
Booking.com told me that when you made your reservation for the Villa de Fanabe, it would have ‘been clear at every stage of the booking process’ that the payment was non-refundable.
Well, up to a point. I waded through about a dozen pages of photographs, information and small print about the villa. There is a section headed ‘fine print’ where you might expect to find cancellation details there, but you would be wrong.
Instead, there are the usual frequently asked questions, mainly about parking spaces and air conditioning. There is a sub-heading ‘policies’ and if you click on this then some way down the page it does clearly say ‘you will be charged the total price if you cancel your booking’.
You almost have to know it is there to find it.
To give Booking.com its due, it did do its best to help. I was told: ‘Booking.com has tried to persuade the property [owner] to modify dates or offer free cancellation, but unfortunately they are unwilling.’
As a gesture of goodwill, Booking.com itself has now refunded you €1,040 (about £920). The villa owner has done well out of this though. The villa has been booked again for the same dates so he is getting paid twice.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
Well done! You spotted this firm is a clone (and it’s not the only one)
P.L. writes: I received a phone call to say I was owed money for my dealings 15 to 20 years ago with failed broker Square Mile Securities. I declined as the compensation fund had already settled with me. Five minutes later I was called again to be told I was definitely owed money and the next day this was confirmed in writing. But I think it is a scam.
Slick: The fake website has all the details of the real firm bar the phone number
Well spotted. It is a scam. The letter you received looks as though it came from Capricorn Finance – with an address in Piccadilly, Central London, a proper company registration number, and authorisation from regulator the Financial Conduct Authority.
The letter is signed by director David Cunio and says you are owed £9,472, but you have to pay £1,894 in fees which will be refunded later, along with the £9,472 itself.
Anyone checking would find there really is a Capricorn, with an address in Piccadilly, and it does have the company number shown on the notepaper, and it is authorised by the regulator. One of its directors is David Cunio.
But look closely and you spot the phone number on the notepaper is 0203 290 7465 – this is not the number of the real Capricorn.
The genuine company has been ‘cloned’ by fraudsters who have even set up a fake website at capricorn-finance.com, but with their own phone number. This number is already in my files. It was used a few months ago when fraudsters cloned another company, Satis Asset management, in a similar type of scam.
If you had fallen for the fake Capricorn letter, you would have been told to send your payment by bank transfer to account number 13 29 28 60 at sort code 09-01-28.
This is a Santander account, so I tipped off the bank. Officials there thanked The Mail on Sunday, saying: ‘We are always grateful to receive information about suspected fraudulent accounts. We will act swiftly to investigate and block accounts where appropriate.’
Meanwhile, at the genuine Capricorn, director Stuart Dixon told me: ‘We have had several calls from the public. We have notified the regulator and sent them a series of documents.
‘I am hoping the Financial Conduct Authority will shut down these guys. They are not connected with us in any way at all.’
Neither the regulator nor the fake Capricorn responded to invitations to comment.