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.
D.S. writes: Noble Caledonia has cancelled our cruise because of problems with its ship. It offered to transfer our booking to the next identical cruise, sailing in August, and we accepted this.
Now, ignoring its own booking conditions, it wants to charge us an extra £3,000 each to take up the offer.
It is no longer answering my emails.
Choppy waters: Noble Caledonia cut its Heritage Adventurer cruise
Tony Hetherington replies: You and your wife booked a circumnavigation of the United Kingdom cruise on board the Heritage Adventurer.
Your trip should have begun two days ago, but on May 3 you received an email from the cruise company cancelling the entire voyage.
Sea trials off the coast of Turkey had uncovered problems with the ship’s fire system, which had to be repaired before passengers could board.
Noble Caledonia offered you a complete refund or the option to switch your booking to a number of alternative sailings, including the next cruise around the UK, on August 6.
You chose to transfer to the August voyage, but were startled to be told that this would cost £8,295 a head, an extra £6,000 on top of your original payment.
You were startled because Noble Caledonia’s booking conditions say that if the firm is forced to cancel a trip, it will offer passengers the choice of a refund or, it adds, ‘if available, accepting an offer of alternative travel arrangements of comparable or higher standard from us, at no extra cost’.
This seems clear enough. You were told that a better cabin was available in August, and you were happy to transfer your booking.
So why were you asked to pay thousands of pounds more when there was supposed to be no extra cost?
I asked Noble Caledonia to explain, and I was told there had been an ‘error’, and that you should have been quoted the same price as for your original booking.
So, you are definitely booked in for August on the Heritage Adventurer without paying a penny more.
However, Noble Caledonia has provided a fuller explanation, telling you that its interpretation of its terms and conditions is not what you expected.
It says ‘we are not obliged to offer another holiday of equal or higher standard/price and nor are we obliged to offer another holiday available without the need for customers to pay an additional premium’.
It seems your original voyage had been marketed at a discount, and when you were invited to switch to the August trip, someone at Noble Caledonia had failed to consider the discount and tried to charge you £6,000 more.
The firm has apologised for what it says was this ‘mix up’ and it has confirmed to you as well as to me that you will be sailing round the coast in August.
18-month wait for an annuity
Mrs L.D. writes: My husband died in October 2020, and staff at ReAssure were advised of this within a week.
It was not until March 2021, after many phone calls, that they acknowledged receipt of the required documentation and proposed the new annuity in my name which should have started in December 2020.
Yet my monthly annuity payment has still not been set up.
Tony Hetherington replies: Following the loss of your husband, you were entitled to a spouse’s annuity which, as you say, should have started in 2020.
ReAssure has told me that it apologises for the distress caused by its delays.
‘These delays were largely due to servicing challenges we were experiencing at the time, exacerbated by the Covid pandemic,’ it adds. However, ReAssure says it did start paying your annuity last year.
This is true, though it appears the payments went into a savings account rather than the current account you were checking.
This has been put right and you now have all the missing payments.
ReAssure has added £400 as compensation for the long delays.
Contents of your mother’s safety deposit box may stay a mystery
Ms D.M. writes: I need your help with an ongoing problem that I am having with Barclays.
Staff are insisting that I obtain a grant of probate for my deceased mother’s estate, as the bank has a safety deposit box in her name.
My mother left no money, and my father has only limited funds.
I was told at first that probate was not needed if the contents of the box were worth less than £50,000, but then I was told that, as Barclays does not know what is in the box, probate is definitely needed.
Tony Hetherington replies: This is a tricky situation as you have no way of knowing what the contents of the safety deposit box might be worth.
And Barclays’ own rules about the value of items it will hand over without probate are not the same as the less generous limits that apply to probate fees.
The knock-on effect of this is that the solicitors who are the executors of the will might be charged hundreds of pounds in probate fees if the contents are valuable, or nothing at all if the contents are worth no more than £5,000. And this is completely unpredictable until the box is opened.
In its decision not to let you open the box, Barclays is legally right. A spokesman told me: ‘We have every sympathy with the family of our late customer regarding the need for a grant of probate to allow the executor to access the safe custody box.’
This, though, is the only way the bank can respect your mother’s wishes, as she clearly valued whatever is in the box so only the people she named as executors, with a grant of probate to prove this, can claim to stand in your mother’s place and take control of whatever the box contains.
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.