In 2011 I bought a tenement flat in Renfrew, near Glasgow, to let out. I insured the property through a broker.
Four years later I became aware that there was a factor — the Scottish equivalent of a managing agent — in place for the tenement building. He had been arranging insurance for the whole block and the cost was included in his fees.
So, in July 2015, I cancelled the buildings cover I had bought for the flat. I have been trying to reclaim the overpayment ever since. I estimate this comes to about £900.
The factor provided details of the policies bought for the building from 2011-15, and I have recently spoken to the insurers he used — Ecclesiastical and then RSA.
My broker has been excellent, trying to negotiate on my behalf with the insurer I used, Orwell, which refused to speak to me directly. But I am coming up against a brick wall.
I have spent hours trying to get a refund for what I considered a straightforward duplicate payment.
JILL REPLIES I’m not sure how someone buys and owns a property for several years without realising it is managed by a factor. Although it may not be mentioned in your deeds, you must have wondered who was maintaining the building.
You first contacted me about this last November but the problem has taken a long time to sort out, largely because you have been doing a grand tour — sending me emails from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia and America. As a result, it has been difficult to communicate on occasion.
You were worried you had broken the law inadvertently by arranging two lots of insurance for your rental property, but this is not the case. Doing so is not illegal — but it is expensive and pointless.
You also wanted the money you had paid for the unnecessary second buildings policy. Although you said you had spoken to Ecclesiastical and RSA, the insurers used by the factor, both told me you had not asked for a refund. Instead you had asked Orwell to refund the premiums you had paid over four years for your own buildings insurance policy.
By the time you came to me, Orwell had offered to refund half the premiums you paid. But you rejected this and made a formal complaint.
In fact, Orwell had handled your case correctly. The Financial Ombudsman Service confirmed that when a policyholder has duplicated cover, it is standard procedure for all the insurers involved to repay half the premiums received.
Orwell responded to your complaint at the end last month, saying that in its opinion it had done nothing wrong and reiterating the offer of a 50% refund. I advised you to accept this immediately.
I also forwarded the insurance certificates from Orwell to RSA and Ecclesiastical, showing the amount for which your flat was covered. This enabled them to calculate what proportion of the factor’s policies related to your flat, and therefore how much should be repaid to you.
You have now received a total refund of £1,089 from the three insurers. It may go a little way towards paying for the next leg of your incredible holiday.
In mourning — and then first direct added to the distress
MY HUSBAND died last August and I notified his bank, First Direct, in early September. The account was immediately frozen, though it held only a little over £1,000.
I supplied First Direct with extensive documentation including certified proofs of identity — utility bills, passports — for myself and the other executor, my husband’s brother, plus the death certificate and grant of probate.
After several weeks, First Direct said I had not sent the grant of probate and it could not accept the copy of my passport, which had been certified by a solicitor. These had to be resupplied.
First Direct then sent me an account paying-in book, although I had not requested an account.
I tried to call the bank but it refused to speak to me as it could not verify my identity. It said my place of birth did not match its records.
I think I know where I was born — and First Direct does have my passport to prove it!
After many more delays, we are waiting to see what delaying tactics and excuses will come next. I really cannot tell you how distressing this is when you are going through the grieving process with so much to sort out. It is so exhausting. Companies like this need to be called to account.
JILL REPLIES I particularly dislike it when bereaved people are let down by financial firms. I asked First Direct to transfer the money in your husband’s account immediately, without causing any more distress.
The bank received your husband’s death certificate on September 7 and then asked for the original grant of probate, or a sealed copy of it, signed by all the executors. It also asked for documents to prove the identities of yourself and the other executor, your brother-in-law.
Although you sent these off promptly, First Direct said it had no record of receiving them. Inexplicably, it then let things lie until February, when you called for an update. You sent another set of certified identity documents, plus the grant of probate.
At this point,the bank started what can only be described as “faffing”. You were asked to send more passport copies because the first set was “too blurry”. In all, you sent two copies and your brother-in-law had to send three, even though they had all been certified by a solicitor.
First Direct said it had still not received a copy of the grant of probate, so you had to send off yet another one. Then it queried your middle name, which it had not seen in the previous proofs of identity — no doubt because the copy of the passport was too blurry. Who uses their middle name for utility bills anyway? The bank also opened an unnecessary and unwanted savings account for you.
Then it tried to contact your brother-in-law by phone, but confused him by asking him to go through security questions without saying why it was calling. Of course, he refused to provide the private details required.
When he managed to supply First Direct with documents it could read, it found that the person certifying his passport copy had not used the correct wording.
Finally, on March 10 — six months after you first notified First Direct of your husband’s death and three days after you contacted me — the bank completed its checks and closed the account, as you had requested.
It has apologised to you and sent me the following statement: “We offer our sincere condolences to [Mrs X] and would like to apologise for her recent experience with us. It’s clear our treatment of [her] has not lived up to the high standards we set ourselves, and we’re extremely sorry to have contributed to her distress at this time.”
The £1,000 has now been transferred to your account and, by way of apology, First Direct is sending you £150 and some flowers.