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Correspondent’s week

This week by freelance personal finance journalist Margaret Dibben

My accountant phones to remind me that the Revenue will slap a 100 fine on anyone who has not paid their tax bill by January 31. Sorry, but this is not a great idea for a feature. I wrote it a month ago.

My accountant then asks why I have not yet sent him my tax return. What, me? Surely, the Revenue would not fine me? They know me. My accountant assures me that they will, with double the glee. He points out that tax legislation applies to personal finance journalists just as it does to readers. So the day starts badly as I scramble through a drawer full of receipts to remind myself who paid me and what I spent a year ago.

Before I get to the bottom of the pile, I have another sobering thought. I really ought to buy travel insurance for the holiday I booked three weeks ago. I abandon the tax return, take my own advice and shop around. After completing three online questionnaires, I get bored. I will come back to it later.

This realisation that personal finance advice is not just for readers reminds me how angry I am with PayPal. I fire off a whingeing email about its complaint system, which forced me to post back shoes to the seller before it would consider my complaint that they were not accurately described. After the shoes had gone, PayPal rejected my claim. I lost both the goods and the money.

The inequity fires me up to attack a newly arrived pile of readers’ letters for my agony aunt column in The Observer. Endowment misselling is still a frequent complaint, particularly from people who have missed out on compensation because they bought before 1988 or because the IFA is no longer in business yet not declared insolvent. And far too many elderly people have been sold with-profits bonds.

I chase the companies which are being slow to sort out readers’ grievances. Like Carphone Warehouse, which refused to cancel a contract that a father bought for his son, who was subsequently murdered. The company insists on seeing a death certificate but this is a murder inquiry and there isn’t one yet. I expected chief executive Charlie Dunstone to rush round in person but have not heard a peep for a week.

Next, a feature on using Isas in financial planning. Who better for jolly quotes than Anna Bowes of Chase de Vere, a neighbour here in Bath? We meet in town for coffee and a natter, mostly about Isas.

Financial services are thriving in Bath. On Wednesday, I pop down the road for lunch with David Hollingworth and James Cotton of London & Country Mortgages. David mentions a development he has spotted – mortgage bundlers which collate applications from a number of borrowers and put these up for auction to lenders. The cheapest offer wins the business. He is not impressed.

Helen Pridham and I have a campaign to name and shame press offices that impose expensive 0870 telephone numbers. We both chose this as our pet hate in Headlinemoney’s Who’s Who. I can already list Coventry Building Society, Airmiles, Grant Thornton, Go Travel Insurance and Capita.

I round off the week with a piece for my partner’s monthly news agency service. This goes to people producing community newspapers for their housing estates. They are more interested in shopping and credit than Isas and endowments, so this month I reveal which banks provide left-handed chequebooks. I do not get paid for this but my partner buys supper. The week definitely got better as it progressed.

Any Out of Contexts or Diary stories? Send them to Diary editor Paul McMillan, email: or telephone: 020 7970 4776


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