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.
Mrs A.B. writes: My husband died on November 29. He received a company pension from Aga Rangemaster, so I informed it immediately.
It said it was too late to stop payments for December and January, so when they arrived I should return them. I received his December pension of £208 and returned it, but nothing arrived for January.
But I have been told it is up to me to get my bank to trace the missing payment, and have been refused my widow’s pension from the company until I find January’s money and return it.
Half-baked excuse: Mercer runs Aga Rangemaster’s pensions
Tony Hetherington replies: You told me you are 83 years old and supposed to be shielding from Covid, but were told you had to produce a bank statement to prove the £208 had not arrived.
You went to your bank, obtained a printed statement and gave this to Mercer, the firm that administers the Aga Rangemaster pension scheme.
Mercer, which is a major company in the pensions industry, still refused to accept this as proof. It said you had to instruct your bank to trace the money. And at this point, you got in touch with me.
I contacted Mercer, and I gave it a letter signed by you to authorise its staff to discuss the problem without breaching data protection rules.
Within hours, Mercer replied. Miraculously, the whole matter had already been resolved and by pure chance it had contacted you just after my enquiry arrived.
But Mercer refused to tell me what had gone wrong because, it claimed, your letter of authority was not good enough.
Although it had been dealing with you ever since your husband’s death, Mercer suddenly decided that I had to provide it with your date of birth as well as your National Insurance number.
Meanwhile, Mercer phoned you and then told me: ‘Mrs B responded that she no longer wants us to provide any information because she was happy that the issue was quickly resolved.’
When I checked, it seems Mercer rang you, promised you would get your widow’s pension by January 29, and lured you into saying you no longer needed any help from me.
Of course, your widow’s pension did not arrive by January 29. Mercer was just playing for time to try to get rid of me. Some day, big companies will learn this has the opposite effect.
But worse was to come. After I told Mercer its own conduct had guaranteed that this story would be published, it suddenly confessed that the missing £208 January pension payment – the root cause of this whole affair – had never been paid.
Mercer was demanding that you and your bank trace £208 that it had never sent in the first place, and had threatened to withhold your widow’s pension until you handed over £208 to which it was never entitled.
Mercer’s whole conduct was that of a bully, demanding money from an elderly widow, then trying desperately to wriggle out of its own mess by refusing to answer questions.
Next, Mercer denied that it had ever promised your widow’s pension by January 29 – the supposed reason for telling me to get lost.
No problem, I replied, just let me listen to the recording of that call so I could hear exactly what was said.
Sadly, this attracted a further brush-off from a Mercer official, who told me: ‘It is not our business practice to record all calls and I can confirm that the call you are referring to was not recorded.’
Mercer then refused to answer any more questions or say anything further on the matter.
On the bright side, Mercer did start paying your widow’s pension last month. But, guess what? Mercer has form for this sort of thing. In 2018 my opposite number on the Daily Mail, Tony Hazell, was asked for help by a reader who had waited months for a Mercer pension.
Tony reported: ‘When I contacted Mercer, it implied that the issue was resolved and it had written to you to confirm the pension arrangements.’
Yet when Tony checked this, the reader replied that he was ‘still waiting, still none the wiser’, with phone calls not returned and emails left unanswered.
It all sounds horribly familiar, and now, in 2021, Mercer has clearly learned nothing.
Payment ‘soon’: J.H.’s son has been waiting months for a tax refund of almost £800
Taxman’s simplicity drive is making life complicated
J.H. writes: My son has been waiting months for a tax refund of almost £800.
Revenue & Customs staff always say it will be paid ‘soon’, but it appears there is an issue which one official told us had at one time affected about a million taxpayers.
Tony Hetherington replies: IN 2017, your son underpaid income tax through the Pay As You Earn system, so he sent a cheque for the balance due.
The cheque was cashed by Revenue & Customs in January 2018, but it seems a glitch in the system meant that the payment was not allocated to your son.
You told me that his tax records still showed him as being in arrears, so the later repayment was blocked.
A Revenue spokesman told me: ‘As part of efforts to expand Simple Assessment, we took steps to protect customers from experiencing errors while the system was changed.’
The Simple Assessment scheme was launched a few years ago so people with straightforward incomes need not complete a tax return.
But it certainly was not meant to separate old records, which showed your son had paid his taxes, from new calculations, showing a refund was due.
After I contacted staff at the Revenue & Customs, they intervened and your son now has his £783 refund.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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