/ Money

The fees you could live without

Fees and charges

You’ve been sharing your stories of the everyday fees that really wind you up, from contract termination charges to the cost of updating your address…

Just when you think you’ve got your finances nicely under control, up pops a charge for something that you really don’t think should cost you anything. Naturally, some charges are to be expected and many of them are completely reasonable, but you’ve told us recently on Which? Conversation that there are plenty of fees out there that you don’t think make sense.

A charge crept up on Methvano right at the end of a house sale:

‘Just sold house (in Scotland) and solicitor of buyer deducted £19.20 fee for cost of his client’s money transfer on the sale day, to my account, on the final piece of documentation, which made the sale legally binding. Was I going to withdraw at this point because of this, would you? Daylight robbery!’

Pauline Seaman was not impressed with Saga:

‘We’ve just moved house and Saga charged us £45 fee to change our address on our car insurance. We will not renew with them!’

Excess waiver insurance on car hire can cost a lot more than it needs to, but Simon spotted one possible benefit:

‘If you don’t take out the hire car company’s excess insurance, they’ll usually want a hefty deposit on a credit card. It’s not so bad if they simply put a hold on the deposit amount, but on my two most recent hires, they took the deposit as an actual payment. This was for £1,800 in Iceland, and €950 in Spain. This means that when the refund eventually arrives, the exchange rate might have changed, and you can lose again (as it happened though, I gained £40 from the Iceland hire).’

Lost connections

Moving house, starting a new contract, ending an old one, upgrading to a ‘better offer’: all these situations can lead to headaches and cheeky fees. Joseph Cronshaw was talked into a deal that wasn’t quite what he bargained for:

‘I was coming to the end of my contract, and I checked with BT about the earliest date I could cancel, using the contact form. I got a call from them mid evening, going into how they might be able to help me overcome some of the reasons why I was considering leaving BT. After quite some time going back and forth with different offers, the person convinced me I was on the wrong plan, and came up with a new one that was much cheaper; it also included a mobile phone card for £10 per month. I accepted. Within two months, the bill had climbed back to where I was before, and I asked them to cancel the mobile phone. And then the big shock: I was locked into an 18-month contract and could not cancel the mobile phone even though they could see I had not used it, because I have a Pay as You Go phone that I have been using for years.’

Moving is stressful enough without having to worry about extra fees from your phone or internet provider, as Katie Bainbridge has experienced:

‘Moving house and having to start a contract from scratch with your provider or else be charged (depending on how much time left the contract has to run) a massive fee. If you rent, therefore have to move frequently, the chances are that the only way to get rid of the damned provider is to pay the huge fee, usually the remaining months in full, or leave the country! I’ve been stung by Talktalk because I could not transfer the line. I have a line I cannot afford to cancel all in one go and a service to pay for that I cannot use. Talktalk are holding me to the contract. Not a nice experience…’

Swapping between providers can throw up a few pricey surprises too, as Peter from Carshalton explains:

‘Some years ago I changed from BT to Virgin for my TV, broadband and phone. I have always had a BT Internet.com email address. Unbeknown to me they started charging £1.60 a month for the privilege some time ago, but have now upped it to £5 a month. BT never bothered to contact me about the £1.60 a month charge. To change my email address after all this time would be real pain in the backside—so now I am lumbered with paying £60 a year for having a BT address.’

What’s the most recent surprising fee that you’ve encountered?


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Several years ago I renewed my car insurance by phone and informed the representative that I would be retiring soon, and gave the exact date. He asked me to let them know when this had happened. I did this and was told that there would be a charge for amending my details. I was not pleased and after further discussion the fee was waived.

I can appreciate that many factors affect risk and changing your address could be a valid reason for a supplementary charge because of the location of where the car is kept and driven. Changing a mobile number or email address would attract a fee, and they don’t affect risk.

When I have used this anecdote before it has been pointed out that it costs the company money to make the changes, but I see the recording of minor amendments as part of the service I have paid for. Where changes require a reappraisal of risk then that should at least be explained.

I sympathise with your view, wavechange but with competition among insurers to keep costs down, I don’t think you can assume such admin costs are “part of the service”. Other customers who don’t make changes would then be subsidising those who do.

Perhaps we could compare this with running a current account which is generally free if you stay in credit, even by a small amount. Banks provide many services without charge, including ATMs, branches and internet banking. Some make heavy use of these services and others do so infrequently.

Is it too much to expect insurance companies to let us make minor changes without charge? Obviously any changes that affect risk may incur extra charges. I am pleased to report that I will be with a motor insurer that does not charge for minor amendments, though that was not the reason I changed, just a bonus.

Some while ago there was a Convo about ATMs and a plea for them to be free. Now we seem to be suggesting it is unfair for banking services to be free. Confusing, isn’t it. 🙂

robert C says:
17 July 2016

agreed, and it is probably a contractual obligation to keep them informed. Surely minor changes such as email address or phone should be FOC – esp if you can update them on-line yourself. Revised risk is of course a different matter. Retiring? Not commuting to work? less miles? I’d expect a refund.

I wonder how many of so-called “sneaky fees” are actually in the contract conditions that are accepted when you buy a service? It would be appropriate to know this when using them as examples. I presume that a contract would be unenforceable if an undisclosed condition was imposed.

Hi Malcolm, I’ve tweaked this to be about the fees that have surprised people. They’re not quite the sneaky fees we’ve been talking about in our campaign. Sorry about that.

Thanks Patrick

Bit of a damp squib. People who do not delve complaining that they have been gulled. There is a limited amount of sympathy for people who make unjustified assumptions, refuse to read the news, and otherwise do not engage fully.

Obviously exceptions should be made for those who have not the capability to keep up with what is going on. I have said before that velocity of change is actually a weapon of confusion for the corporations. I would suggest seriously that the greatest service that could occur for the public is the limiting of how much change any business is allowed to make in a year to its terms and conditions. Furthermore that particular industries by law have to present them in a specific week in each year. This would be especially suitable for the utilities which now I consider includes Broad Band and Mobile.

AT a stroke we remove confusion from the market place. Obviously newspapers and commentators will become less rewarded for the remaining 10 months of the year but can console themselves with printing stories about service levels and outages etc.

dieseltaylor, I’d like to see a model “Standard terms and conditions”, that are independently approved, used within a given industry, with only necessary additions needing to be added by a specific provider or supplier. We would not then have to continually trawl through (although necessary) information and it would make comparing providers much easier – just on where they differ. “Model conditions of contract” already exist for a number of commercial sectors.

It’s not always a case of being unaware of terms and conditions, Dieseltaylor. In the example I have given, I was well aware of the charge and tried to avoid it by telling my motor insurance company during the renewal process – the annual opportunity to make changes without cost.

Not so long ago, many companies would charge us to phone them even if the purpose of the call was to make a valid complaint about poor service. Now any call to customer services from an existing customer must not generate revenue. The commercial world deserves this because of their greed. It’s a bit different from additional charges but the principle is the same and the consumer won this long drawn out battle. I think it is fair enough to charge customers who need individual help with setting up their computer, connecting a printer, and so on, but they will have to cover their costs in a different way.

I would love standard terms and conditions with additional features. It’s analogous to buying a car where manufacturer offers a list of specifications and options that can be specified, but it’s unlikely that different companies will offer equivalent specifications. I have seen standard specifications working really well where a variety of computer specifications were put out to tender and the successful companies would supply one or hundreds of computers built to the specifications needed.

robert C says:
17 July 2016

I’d go one further, for things such as banks and utilities I would like to see standard T&C that are reasonable, much shorter than now and approved (as in checked and recommended) by Which and other organisations. Companies can then offer their own T&C or the approved ones – simply issuing a price list for those standard features such as a name change or exit fee. It would be far easier to compare and many companies could advertise the fact that they offer “fair deal” T&C. A few years ago when I switched energy supplier, I had to read 2 lots of T&C, 1 gas and 1 elec, from the same supplier – I am convinced that they don’t want you to read them and hence assume that they are up to no good.

Many of the comments here have pointed out that the “victims” have only themselves to blame because they never read the Ts&Cs, and sadly they are right. However have you ever tried to read them for some companies? For example, a relatively simple insurance policy like The RAC breakdown cover. It runs to 48 pages! Few if any can honestly say they’ve read and understood all of it. Life is too short. How many times do we click on the “I’ve read the Ts&Cs” box on a web site when you’ve done nothing of the sort? Sometimes, if you do look at them they are nearly as long as the RAC’s.
A cynic might think that, after being caught and banned from making obvious unfair charges (eg 0870 numbers etc.), the financial services industry have become more devious by making their charges legitimate (“you agreed the Ts&Cs”) but burying them in pages of fine print that they know hardly anyone will read or understand.
As for the actual charges for amending a policy with something simple like a change of phone number or address, how much does it actually cost? How long can it take a competent data entry person? A minute at the most? They must be some of the highest paid people on earth, £45 per minute or £5.4 million a year. B}}

We tried to use a countrywide firm of property lawyers for a house purchase in 2009.

This email sent to them explains all:
I regret that owing to the urgency of the transaction and the pending postal strike, we have decided to cancel your services and use a local solicitor. The other party to the transaction has also changed to a local solicitor, we believe for the same reasons.

I think under the circumstances we are due for a refund of the £50, because it was used to prove our identities which benefits yourselves and not us, and also because one of you told us on the telephone that you had to use the Royal Mail to send hard copies.


They never refunded the money.

I live in Morayshire North east Scotland but our postcode is an IV otherwise highlands and islands. I object to being charged extra postage for this.When ever i see this i stop the order when buying on the internet. Iassume that there are many more like me. WHAT CAN BE DONE

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robert C says:
17 July 2016

I heard the same from locals when visiting John O’Groats – their postcode is described as “islands”. I forget the code, but say AB1 6YZ. AB1 includes islands, but the 6 confirms it is mainland after all. I think those unfairly lumped together as more remote than they actually are just have to keep letting the suppliers know each time they walk away. Set up a website for the area listing good suppliers who do not charge extra? Just shows the value of the universal postal service (and I live in the midlands and do not have an axe to grind)

One fee I’m not impressed with is that charged by pension companies and called a management fee. They get their once of blood regardless of whether my pension pot goes up or down. Money for old rope if you ask me.

Perhaps they “managed” to keep your pension pot out of the worst-performing investments, William. Of course, if they were way out of step from the market then questions do need to be asked.

If your IFA sets up a SIPP, they will not only initially buy investments for you but thereafter handle dividends, issue payment to you, make a tax payment, and more importantly, if they are a decent IFA, keep your portfolio under review and make changes as they feel benefits you. This requires staff who need paying. You could avoid all fees if you manage a SIPP yourself.

Flat fees would disproportional weight heavy on people with small pension pots. Furthermore the better the investments perform the more money the pension company or fund manager gets. There should be an incentive for them to get the most of your money.

Just make sure that the fees are reasonable and that the investments are not a dud.

If the work is the same on a smaller as well as a larger pot then a flat fee makes sense, otherwise one group will subsidise another. Larger pots will no doubt be subject to larger trades as investments are bought and sold, with correspondingly larger charges involved.

Getting more for your money is related to the risk level you choose – and if you try for more you may end up with less so we need to be careful on incentives. A good IFA will produce a balanced portfolio in line with your risk level and work to maintain its value and income.

Malcolm , Once I get to 55 I’ll be slowly withdrawing all the money away from pension companies, Even an account paying 0.0000001% would do me better than watching a drop of 20k in a pension pot.

We have all been brought up in a cynical world believing [sometimes secretly] that the only way is to work your way through the system, succeed look after your own, and pay lip service to morality. In my estimation 90%+ of the worlds people are ,good ,kind, generous loving people. So what’s the problem? Fragmentation of these people into segmented groups, instead of mass integrated groups. We can have low or non existent crime, world peace, no more poverty no more wars, now, today and forever. The morality is there, the will ,bravery and belief, can be cultivated, world wide, so that everything we aspire to, can become real.

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robert C says:
17 July 2016

Just been on a short break to Northern Ireland, bought the airline tickets through Expedia. When the email arrived we checked it carefully and noted a spelling mistake in my name (so it would not match my passport). They had got my wife’s name correct so as a minimum they should have spotted 2 different spelling. We reported this immediately (under 24 hours with 2 weeks to go, etickets so nothing printed) and they wanted to charge for making a name change! Took some arguing to convince them this was their error. I suppose they have to pay for their TV adverts somehow

All big business make money in way they can some by illegal methods , adding sneaky fees is another one ,if they were forced to make all fees perfectly clear and simple for everyone to understand many would look for another way to increase profits for owners,shareholdersa and investors

What do you mean by “sneaky”, Peter? I have yet to find a regular high street bank or building society that does not present its fees and charges helpfully, whether in literature available in branches, on-line, by telephone banking, or over the counter? The fees might not be likeable but it is not fair to say they are concealed. Help is also freely available for any customer who does not understand them.

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I have recently paid £272.55, Duncan. That includes breakdown cover provided the car is more than a quarter of a mile from home and one named driver. Last year I paid £327.60 without breakdown cover.

The previous company had done a price hike. Had I stayed with the previous company I would have been paying almost £497.75, but that would have offered better NCD protection and key cover. There has been a change of address between last year and this year, further complicating comparisons.

When I phoned up to cancel I was asked why I had not contacted them to say what the other company had offered. I explained politely that when I had taken out the insurance I had warned them not to hike the price, otherwise I would be leaving.

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I’ve named the new company recently, Duncan. It does not have shareholders to support. 🙂
I have no idea whether the breakdown cover is any good.

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duncan, I got a good deal off Nationwide (LV actually). Insurance companies favour different groups of people so it is well worth shopping around. I also use a broker for an elderly car and they’ve always shopped around each year and come up with a decent deal.

OK, it’s NFU Mutual. I have no experience of their service beyond arranging insurance, but the company was recommended by Which?

I hope you are offered a good price, Duncan. On most occasions when friends have told me about good insurance deals, I have been quoted high prices – and vice-versa.

My quotation is for 10k miles per year but I usually do 8k or less.

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Over a decade ago when I was doing general insurance both NFU and LV were great insurance companies. I use LVFS for all our insurance now be that travel , car and house. They did not use to do the car I own but that changed a couple of years ago so everything is now under one roof.

BTW where you live can have an effect on your rating and it may be slightly more subtle then simply your post-code claims record. In theory LV might be able to write its entire insurance book in the NW UK. However any major disaster there will be a major threat to the company. As a company it pays to spread your risk widely on household insurance. BTW I just said LV -I have no knowledge of its particular underwriting guidelines.

In a telephone RBS Travel insurance grilling, i faithfully described all my medications for Diabetes type 2.
When asked if i was taking any other medications I mentioned those for Psoriasis, to be told that would be an additional £19 ! on top of the ADDITIONAL £270 i was paying, in addition to RBS Platinum Royalties at £16/month
Psoriasis is a non-infectious skin disease with unsightlyness being the only downside.

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Tomdor says:
21 July 2016

My pet rip off is the way airlines charge for seats so you can sit next to your own wife (husband) or family!

People shouldn’t fall for it and should swap seats with other split-up couples once they are on board. The airlines would soon get fed up with that.

I would think that the problem could be simply and quickly dealt with as an endangerment to life. In an emergency family members would be likely to try to assist their loved ones and this could block emergency escape routes etc etc.

I am astonished that no one has considered this before. Come on Which? get in touch with the CAA etc and get this one stamped on pronto. If you want any more help let me know.

I support you in that DT. There should be no charge for pre-selecting seats and so far as possible groups should not be split up. Options include the rows in front or behind or across the aisle.

The seat configuration doesn’t help. There are usually some spare seats in a set of three that have to be allocated to couples and they don’t always line up. For example, when we choose seats, we never book a window seat [or an inside seat in a middle row].

I received a letter yesterday from the Head of Cards [I kid you not] at John Lewis containing information about changes to their ‘Partnership’ credit card terms and conditions. I was pleased to note that they are removing charges for changing a statement date and for copy statements. It’s a start.

My local NatWest branch (the only bank in town) wanted to charge me £10 for changing eight bags of £2 coins (£160) into £20 notes. If my maths are correct, the charge would have been equivalent to 16%. The bags would have been weighed so no staff effort was involved. Is this the beginning of negative interest rates on savings and is it any wonder banks generally only receive negative comments?

I am guessing you are not a NW customer. Do you have a post-office? a supermarket?

I am not quite clear why you think that this should be a free service. You have chosen to collect the coins and now you want the bank to deal with them, store them, and send off possibly in a bullion van. I cannot quite see what is in it for them.

I do wonder what they would do for a customer. You may know one. : )