In 2018 I invested £10,000 of my savings into an Isa with investment manager Northern Provident, for a three-year fixed term.
I expected to receive my investment returned with interest, which I was told at the outset was 7 per cent, in August 2021.
When I contacted Northern Provident for the money, I was told it had gone into liquidation.
I understood at the time that its business had been taken over by a company called Barbican Investments. I have been trying to get my money back from this firm for almost a year.
Confused: Our reader thought it would be simple to get his cash when his three-year bond matured – but that’s not been the case (stock image, posed by model)
It says my money is safe, but that it is not able to pay me yet and I should wait a bit longer.
I’m worried I might have become involved in a scam. Will I ever get my money back?
I’m 79 and this is a lot of money to lose, especially in this financial climate. P.R, Berkshire
Helen Crane, This is Money, replies: Sorry to hear about this – that is indeed a large amount of money to lose, especially when you should be enjoying the wealth you have worked hard for.
You got in touch as you were confused about which firm held your investment, and why it hadn’t paid it back on time.
I don’t blame you. I found this case tricky to get to the bottom of too. I will try and explain the results of my detective work, which involves a complicated investment vehicle, potential mis-selling and a company failure. All in a day’s work.
You believed the money you invested was put into an Isa, which is correct.
However, you did not fully appreciate that it wasn’t a traditional stocks and shares Isa but something much more risky.
Your money was invested as a mini-bond within an Innovative Finance Isa structure.
In the past, these products were marketed by financial advisors alongside cash Isas, which had the potential to confuse investors and potentially lead them into higher-risk investments than they would otherwise have been comfortable with.
An Ifisa allows an investor to make peer-to-peer lending investments – in other words, lend money to investment companies for a fixed return – within a tax-free wrapper.
CRANE ON THE CASE
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Ifisa funds aren’t covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, and the Financial Conduct Authority has previously warned investors over the high-risk bonds.
Investors in these type of bonds were often assured by the firms managing them that their money would be paid back on time, but as your story proves, that wasn’t always the case.
Your case was further complicated when Northern Provident went into liquidation in August 2021 – just as your bond was set to mature. It told you it couldn’t return your cash and that you would have to deal with a company called Barbican Group instead.
At this point you became worried that you may have been the victim of a scam, and that you would never see your cash – and that is when you contacted me.
The FCA has previously raised the issue of fraudsters targeting customers and purporting to be from Northern Provident, and you were worried that in the course of tracking down your investment you may have accidentally allowed it to get into the wrong hands.
You believed Barbican was a firm that had taken over the operations of Northern Provident – and that the people you were conversing with via email may have been fraudsters impersonating it.
But in fact, Barbican was the investment fund that your money had been invested in all along.
Barbican Group is an investment firm, which launched the Barbican Isa mini-bond to get investors like yourself to lend it money for it to invest in specialist care homes.
When Northern Provident went under, management of investors’ cash was handed to the funds that had received it and it now needed to deal with investors such as you directly. It is quite a complicated structure.
Waiting game: Our reader spent almost a year going back and forth over email with Barbican, and being told that he couldn’t have his money yet (stock image)
As your investment wasn’t covered by the FSCS, you couldn’t claim anything back from Northern Provident’s liquidators.
When you contacted Barbican, you were told that it wasn’t yet possible to get your cash.
It said your investment was safe, but that it needed to sell properties in order to be able to pay you, and other investors, back.
On multiple occasions you were told that the money would be available within weeks, but it never materialised. This went on for almost a year.
With you signing up to a three-year bond – and with the amount of money at stake – this was not acceptable.
My first port of call was to contact Northern Provident’s liquidators at FRP Advisory.
It simply said that if a bond or fund issuer was unresponsive, investors should seek their own independent advice. Not especially helpful.
I then contacted Barbican directly, to request that it paid you back your funds.
It insisted it was ‘honouring its commitment to investors’ and that ‘there have been a number of property sales in progress and these are what will enable the Barbican investments to be repaid.’
It said it was repaying investments in chronological order from when they were placed, and that it expected to be able to pay back ‘all other investments’ this summer.
Barbican blamed the delays on the collapse of Northern Provident – which is a convenient excuse given that company no longer exists.
‘It was very disappointing that Northern Provident went into liquidation as they acted as the point of contact for Barbican investors.
‘They were the investment manager for the programme, and since they ceased trading it has left a large amount of work for us to do,’ the spokesperson said.
You have now told me that all of your investment plus interest, amounting to £12,100, has been paid into your account, which I was delighted to hear.
However, there are potentially hundreds or even thousands of other investors out there still waiting to get their cash back from investments they made with Northern Provident – some of which they should never have been sold in the first place.
Aussie rules: The couple are struggling to get an old Premium Bonds prize as they have relocated to Queensland (pictured) and NS&I only pay into UK bank accounts
Hit and miss: This week’s naughty and nice list
Every week, I look at the companies who have fallen short when it comes to customer service, and those who have gone above and beyond.
Miss: An expat husband and wife got in touch with me at the start of this year from sunny Australia to tell me of their troubles getting hold of a prize from NS&I Premium Bonds.
Two years ago, they found an old bond holder’s card in storage and, to their delight, realised that their dormant Premium Bonds had won them £175 in unclaimed prizes.
But when they logged on to the NS&I website to update their details and get the money, they found they couldn’t do this online as they were based abroad and instead had to write or phone.
They tried phoning, but with a 10-hour time difference, expensive call charges and long wait times they ultimately ended up sending a letter, which they even had notorised.
That was two years ago, and they had had no word from NS&I, and no sign of the money, until I contacted them recently.
NS&I sent them cheques for the £175 prize money, and I thought I could put the case to bed. Until, that was, the couple emailed me to let me know that Sterling cheques aren’t accepted by a single bank Down Under – and they had given up their UK bank account as they didn’t plan on returning.
I understand why NS&I can’t allow people without UK bank accounts to start saving with them – but in this case of a lucky legacy win from years ago when the couple were UK-based, surely the Premium Bonds account could be closed and the funds transferred to an Australian bank account.
Will they ever get their cash? NS&I are looking into it, and I will keep you updated.
On the National Express: Coach firm’s staff kept it together under testing circumstances
Hit: During the recent rail strikes, I was unlucky enough to need to do a cross-country journey from London to the West Country on the coach.
I headed to London’s Victoria Coach Station mid-morning and, as predicted, tensions were running high.
In particular, people in danger of missing flights from Heathrow Airport – the first stop on many coaches West of London – were in a state of panic and some were being extremely rude to other customers and staff.
I wanted to call out the excellent National Express staff working at the station, who kept the queues as orderly as they could and were helpful, honest and unfailingly polite when fielding customers’ questions and explaining the delays.
In the hour or so I waited there, I saw at least three passengers being verbally abusive to them – I can’t imagine how high that number would have got by the end of the day.
Many travel firms are giving out joining bonuses to get staff on board at the moment – but if I was National Express, I’d be paying these ones a wad to keep them.