Windfall is a phone call away
Toby Walne - Financial Mail 12/03/00
A hotline is being set up by Alliance & Leicester to help customers claim windfalls after Financial Mail highlighted the millions of pounds in shares still waiting to be collected from UK building societies that converted to banks.
About 70,000 Alliance & Leicester customers have failed to collect an average of £1,300 each in shares. And they are not alone.
Halifax still owes an average £884 to 160,000 missing customers, 41,000 Woolwich customers are due an average £1,800 each, Bristol & West wants to pay out £250 each to 17,000 lost savers, while Birmingham Midshires still cannot find 31,000 customers due up to £5,000 each.
Michelle Pegley of Alliance & Leicester said: "A phone call can sometimes be a waste of time for us and the customer. That is why we have previously asked for windfall queries to be sent by post. But as it is coming up to our third anniversary since flotation, on April 21 a hotline is being introduced to attract more interest from customers still owed money."
Shares left unclaimed after demutualisations or takeovers must be set aside for three years for the rightful owners to come forward. Then banks may sell the shares, but the proceeds can still be claimed for a further nine years.
Even with hotlines, callers may be thwarted by engaged tones, long queues and answering machines.
Shaun Wilkinson, 36, of Thrapston, Northamptonshire, says he has called the Woolwich more than half-a-dozen times in the past three weeks to find out if he is owed shares.
Though he has left messages on an answering machine, Shaun says no one has yet called him back.
Shaun, who has a Woolwich current account, says: "I am a bit peeved they should offer a helpline and then not return my calls. There must be hundreds of people who simply give up calling."
"I may not be due a windfall, but it seems reasonable to expect at least a call back to be given an answer one way or another."
The Woolwich admits that it switches on answering machines at busy times.
Spokesman Alan White said: "We prefer people to ring us rather than write so that names can immediately be checked against account details for windfall entitlements. It should take no more than 15 minutes."
"We try to ensure that all messages left on voice mail are dealt with the same day. Obviously this has not happened in the case of Shaun Wilkinson."
But Phil Telford, a senior researcher at the Consumers’ Association is cynical about the service offered to windfall share-seekers.
He says: "after demutualisation has been voted through, it is not in the business interests of banks to pay out windfalls, so it is understandable when you hear that phones are not being properly manned."
"Our advice to windfall share-seekers is to keep trying. If people are having real problems getting through or no one is calling them back, then write a letter to someone senior at the bank such as the chief executive. Do not give up until you have an answer."
Bristol & West admits that its hotlines became jammed last month when Financial Mail highlighted the windfall backlog. The number of calls went up by 30% - 100 a day - with 5% of callers being due a payout. The Halifax has 120 staff answering shareholders’ queries but only some of them deal with windfall questions.
Spokesman Ian Beggs says: "It can get pretty busy - customers may find they are in a queue, particularly in the morning. The best time to call us is between 2.30pm and 4.30pm."
Birmingham Midshires admits that it has scaled down its hotline service since it was taken over by the Halifax last year.
The helpline at Alliance & Leicester will be launched next month. Until then, inquiries should be made in writing to Shareholders Services, Alliance & Leicester, Carlton Park, Narborough, Leicestershire LE9 5XX.
Woolwich windfall shares queries 020 8308 8900, Halifax 0870 552 2566, Birmingham Midshires 0845 302 9847, Bristol & West 0117 943 7290.
MissingFortunes.Com is presently submitting a list of all our UK registered windfall seekers to the banks mentioned above. We await the outcome.