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 P.N. writes: Three years ago I took out an Equitable Lifecare Limited funeral plan for myself, costing £3,370 which I paid in full. Separately. I then took out a plan for my daughter, paying in monthly instalments.
The sales agent assured us repeatedly that we could cancel the plans at any time and reclaim our money in full.
Recently, I decided to cancel my daughter’s plan, but calls to the company were not returned, so I wrote to say I had lost confidence and now want to cancel both plans. I have since emailed the company as well, but have still had no reply.
Last rites: Funeral firm Equitable Lifecare was abandoned by its owner
Equitable Lifecare – which is not connected to the old Equitable Life insurance business – was abandoned by its owner, who then himself dropped out of sight. And there is no sign of your money or anyone else’s funeral cash.
The company was run by a man named Simeon Keith Mellard, though he also calls himself Simon Mellard. Last January, Mellard told Companies House he had quit as sole director of the business. Leaving it with no boss, he simply walked away.
Your attempts – and mine – to contact Equitable Lifecare at 88 Wood Street in the City of London failed. This is still its registered office, but it just isn’t there.
Despite this, Mellard remained in charge of two other companies at the same address. Equilifecare Limited and Equilifecare Group. Both have failed to file legally due declarations showing who really controls them. Equitable Lifecare itself made all the right noises when it was in business. It advertised: ‘Our members’ qualifying monies are held secure in a specially designated trust fund which is legally separate from the company, with its board of professional independent governing trustees including two chartered accountants.’
If the company itself should go out of business, the trustees would carry on paying members’ funeral bills without interruption. However, Equitable Lifecare was not a member of the industry body, the Funeral Planning Authority. Its head, Graeme McAusland, told me: ‘We have heard of Equitable Lifecare, firstly in 2016 when we advised a customer not to take out a plan with them.’
The organisation raised its concerns with the Financial Conduct Authority, as there were signs the company was based on an insurance scheme which should have had FCA authorisation. I invited the regulator to say what action it took, but it failed to offer any comment.
Nevertheless, I have traced the missing Equitable Lifecare boss, if not the missing money. Simeon Mellard is now living in Newark in Nottinghamshire, but he takes no responsibility for your missing funeral money. He told me: ‘The FCA hit us with a cease-and-desist order back in January 2017.’
According to Mellard, his company was outside the FCA’s boundaries but he could not afford a legal battle. ‘They have made it up as they have gone along,’ he said. ‘What chance have I got?’
Well, where does this leave customers’ money, I asked? Is it still held by the trustees? Mellard’s response was bizarre. It was fortunate, he said, that ‘nothing has happened to me, bearing in mind who these guys are affiliated to’. And he added: ‘If I was ever asked to stand up in court and say who, I would be more than justified in wanting some kind of protection.’
I told Mellard I had been threatened before, but never by a pair of chartered accountants. He agreed to let me have their details, and to produce the FCA order that closed him down. But despite his promises, he has failed to do so. He has asked Companies House to reinstate him as Equitable Lifecare’s director, but that is all.
I know that you have reported Mellard to the police. They gave you a crime number but are unlikely to do anything more. Meanwhile, it is very possible that more of his customers are still sending money to his account at Barclays bank in Lincoln, believing they are paying monthly instalments towards their funeral costs.
The Government is well aware of the problems in the pre-paid funeral industry. Last June, the Treasury announced plans to bring the sector under the control of the FCA, saying the watchdog had shown it took ‘strong regulatory action where necessary’.
I wish I shared the Treasury’s faith. And of course, no authority has moved a muscle to help the customers of Simeon Mellard. As happens in most similar cases, his victims are on their own.
My £3,687 pension transfer into Civil Service pot has vanished!
H.C. writes: The Civil Service Pension Scheme has informed me that I do not have any benefits due because I only worked at the DVLA for a few months in 2009. I do not disagree with this.
However, the scheme did accept a transfer of £3,687 from my earlier local authority job in Manchester. That money has disappeared, and the Civil Service scheme has denied its existence, so where have my pension contributions gone?
Money down the drain: H.C.’s pension pot of £3,687 appeared to have vanished
The confusion over your pension highlights what can happen when employees change jobs, even with major employers. And the worst aspect is that everything looks fine until you retire and discover your pension pot has leaked cash.
You were a member of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund before you switched jobs and joined the DVLA. Your £3,687 was transferred to the Civil Service scheme, but you did not stay with the DVLA very long, so strictly speaking, your pension rights should have been transferred back to Manchester. Instead, the two pension schemes decided to leave things as they were, and your pension pot stayed with the Civil Service scheme, now administered by a company called MyCSP.
MyCSP told you that because you were only briefly at the DVLA, ‘this means you have no benefits in the Civil Service Pension Scheme’. That was plain wrong. I gave MyCSP your details and asked staff to investigate again and this time they found your missing money.
They blamed the previous scheme administrator, Capita, for incorrectly accepting the transfer.
But because of this, MyCSP had to go as high as the Cabinet Office in Whitehall to keep you in the scheme even though you were employed only briefly. The good news is that Whitehall said yes, and you are now officially a Civil Service pensioner.
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.
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