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.
Ms G.L. writes: Mercer needs looking into. A letter from the company, dated August 24, informed me that almost £10,000 from the commutation of my pension savings would be paid on October 1.
There is still no sign of the money, despite many calls to Mercer.
I just keep getting the runaround. I am sure I am not alone. Why is it keeping my money?
On the edge of a cliff: Mercer may be a global giant in the pensions world, but if you work for a company that lets Mercer run its pension scheme, you may find that it is a Big Unfriendly Giant
Tony Hetherington replies: Mercer may be a global giant in the pensions world, with 14 offices in the UK alone, but if you work for a company that lets Mercer run its pension scheme, you may find that it is a Big Unfriendly Giant.
You contacted me after my report in mid-October about a Morrisons employee who retired and had to struggle to get Mercer to part with her pension money. Before that, I reported last March how Mercer refused to pay a widow the company pension to which she was fully entitled, unless she first handed over £208 it claimed it had overpaid her late husband.
Mercer fought long and hard to conceal the truth, which was that the £208 had never been paid. It was extorting money from the widow falsely, by holding back her own pension.
You worked for Whitbread, another household name business that lets Mercer run its pension scheme. Your pension pot is only worth £9,879, which means it is small enough to let you take the lot in cash, rather than collect a tiny pension every month. But what happened when you retired and it was time for Mercer to pay up? You were told to expect your money on October 1, but it did not arrive. In October, you called Mercer and were told payment was 'pending'. Again, the money did not arrive. On November 1, you contacted Mercer again and you were told a letter was waiting to be checked. Checked for what, and by whom? Who knows? But this time you were told to expect payment around November 10. Again, Mercer failed to pay up.
I asked Mercer to explain why you had not been paid, and why it had told you to expect your money on certain dates, only to let you down time and again. Is Mercer short of money? Is this simply bad administration? Is Mercer sitting on cash it should be paying to lots of pensioners, so it can squeeze an extra month or two of interest out of other people's money?
Mercer refuses to say. Even though you and the other Mercer victims whose complaints I have investigated gave their signed, legally binding authority to allow Mercer to speak to me without breaching confidentiality or data protection, the giant's mouth stayed shut when I asked what were clearly awkward questions.
All it would say last Wednesday was this: 'As per our company policy, we do not comment on individual member or client matters. However, we can confirm that Mrs L has been contacted by the team and her lump sum is scheduled to be paid on December 1.'
Would this be the same team that told you your money would land on October 1? And then again on November 10? Why were you not paid then? Mercer refused to answer.
Last month, I wrote that if my work pension was in Mercer's hands, I think I would change jobs. Let me go further now. If I was running a company with a pension scheme, then for the sake of my employees, I would not entrust that scheme to Mercer.
Tax bill of the nurse with two NHS jobs
Mrs L.W. writes: My daughter is a single parent with a small child. She has recently been sent letters by Revenue & Customs, demanding £3,200, and saying she has underpaid income tax since 2016.
She tried to telephone the tax office but gave up because of the cost of waiting to be answered. She also tried to contact Revenue & Customs online, but it refused to deal with her as it wanted her passport details and she has none.
Why has it taken five years to notify her, with only three months allowed for payment?
Constituent parts: It is not true that the NHS is one organisation, with one payroll
Tony Hetherington replies: I asked officials at Revenue headquarters to look into this, and they very quickly explained the root of the problem, which is that your daughter has two jobs, both as a nurse. Both employers believed they were her only employer, so she has been receiving two lots of annual tax allowances instead of one. And since both employers told their tax offices that your daughter only worked for them, the different tax office staff were none the wiser.
The employers submitted tax forms quoting your daughter as saying, 'This is now my only job'.
You have explained that your daughter was not trying to trick the tax man, and you told me that 'nursing is nursing, whatever department you are in', and it should only count as a second job if your daughter took completely different part-time work, in a bar for example. You felt that as your daughter worked for different parts of the NHS, this should be regarded as one employment, and that Revenue & Customs staff were negligent in not realising she had two jobs, so they should scrap the tax bill.
The NHS is one organisation, with one payroll, you said. Unfortunately, this is not true. NHS Trusts around the country have their own budgets, and they are separate employers.
On the bright side though, I can see that Revenue & Customs staff have written off hundreds of pounds that could have been demanded, and your daughter will be allowed to pay off the rest over a long period, and not just three months.
My Eon direct debit has soared
V.L. writes: I am with Eon for gas and electricity. I have been paying £65 a month, a figure set by Eon, but recently I received an email saying my account owes £822 and my monthly direct debits would be going up to £247.
This was a shock, especially as my previous month's statement showed I was in credit by £107.
I tried to telephone Eon but my calls were never answered, and online chats were cut off.
Tony Hetherington replies: Changes to the amount Eon has collected from your bank account came with dizzying speed. After rising from £65 a month to £247, payments fell back to £160, only to climb again to £181 – all within weeks.
Eon told me: 'When Mr L joined Eon, his electricity account was not fully set up, which meant he had not been billed for the electricity he used.'
Utility companies are not supposed to backdate charges by more than one year, so Eon has now cancelled its charges except for the most recent 12 months. It has apologised and paid you £100 to make up for this. The amount you owe has been cut from £822 to a far more manageable £353.
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 protected] 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.