United Kingdom

VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Remember the heroes and villains of the High Street

MY partner Chris and I live in a first-floor flat which, while lovely, doesn’t have any outdoor space.

So when our neighbour sent us a message out of the blue insisting we use her front garden to enjoy the sunshine on Sunday, I could have kissed her. 

When things return to normal we must remember these small acts of kindness and reciprocate where we can.

Helping hands: When things return to normal we must remember those small acts of kindness and reciprocate where we can

But as consumers, it is also our job to remember the heroes (and villains) of the High Street.

As our letters editor Tony Hazell says today, this crisis really is sorting the good companies from the bad — those who have gone above and beyond, and those who behaved poorly, prioritising their own bottom line.

It is important to make a mental note of who fell on which side, so we know who deserves our business when this is all over.

That means keeping an eye on any banks dragging their heels when it comes to delivering much-needed help, be it loans to small businesses or mortgage holidays for homeowners and landlords.

There are also the likes of Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin and Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley, who have treated their staff so abysmally.

In contrast, Joe Garner, chief executive of Britain’s biggest building society Nationwide, volunteered to take a 20 per cent pay cut last week, as well as sacrificing any bonus owed to him for the 2019/2020 financial year.

And then there are the many supermarkets which have done the right thing by their exhausted staff by offering a small bonus as a thank you — or, as Iceland has just announced, passing on a £40 million business rates holiday to ‘heroic’ employees.

We know many firms are struggling to stay afloat, but that is not an excuse to ignore customers or, worse, exploit them in a bid to minimise losses.

Money Mail’s postbag has long acted as a window into the ordinary customer’s world, helping us to highlight wrongdoings and celebrate success. 

Our inboxes are already painting a vivid picture of which companies are doing what, and we won’t hesitate to name and shame those who are behaving badly. 

Nominate your own hero or villain by writing to me at [email protected] and we will publish the best.

Policy kindness

Two weeks ago, I urged banks to step up and help earn back their customers’ trust by waiving expensive overdraft fees. Almost all answered our call to action, and those who didn’t have since been forced to by the City watchdog.

Today I implore insurers to start playing their part, too.

Insurance is supposed to protect you against the unknown. So while it is understandable that insurers are removing cover for Covid-19-related claims going forward, those who purchased a policy before the pandemic was a known event should be protected.

Yet many firms have been quick to shrug off any responsibility by pointing to vague exclusions in the fine print. If customers, be they business owners, landlords or holidaymakers, were not covered for pandemic-related disruption, this should have been made crystal clear when they purchased the policy and highlighted in their key features document. If it wasn’t, then the regulator should be asking some very tough questions.

The Financial Conduct Authority has already warned insurers that it expects companies to treat customers fairly and clearly communicate any exclusions.

I would also like to see some transparency around the money firms have saved and lost. Presumably there will be fewer claims for car accidents over the coming months if people aren’t travelling to work, for example.

Perhaps in return insurers could help customers save a few pounds by waiving the admin fees they usually charge motorists to temporarily remove commuting cover from their policy?

It would be no different to gyms waiving monthly membership fees, or telecoms giants letting people pause their sport subscriptions. Everyone must do their bit, and that means insurers, too.

[email protected]

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