x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Forced service, passport costs and pensions

Have a problem? Been treated unfairly? Our consumer advocate is on the case for you.

While all the talk is on competition bringing more relief to customers from UAE telecom service providers, the average consumer is still getting ripped off. May I ask why I have to pay Dh200 more for a 12mbps broadband line from du when others have the option of getting a 16mbps line from Etisalat for Dh549? Even the 8mbps line from du is more expensive at Dh599. As residents of Discovery Gardens in Dubai, we are forced to have only du services. I don't have the option of switching over to Etisalat. Why is that? I hope the TRA is listening and does something for the average consumer here. AR Dubai

I put our reader's inquiry to du and 12 days later their PR manager came back with the following response: "We encourage and thank our customers for their valuable feedback on our products and services. We are committed to constantly listening to our customers and improving our services to remain at the forefront in the telecom sector in the UAE. We are enhancing our broadband proposition to improve customer experience and offer attractive triple-play packages. Soon, our customers will be pleasantly surprised with our enhanced innovative home service (landline, broadband and TV) offerings." I queried this response as it did not answer the issues raised, but was simply advised that this was their official response. This is clearly disappointing and does not demonstrate any concern for their customers.

I am a US passport holder. Do I need to renew my passport before leaving if, upon my return, it will be less than six months until the expiry date, even though I will still have a valid residency permit? And where is the US Embassy? DH Dubai Provided you have a residency visa with at least six months' validity, you will be able to enter the UAE with less than six months to go on your passport. Many countries will not permit entry in this situation so it is advisable to renew your passport before you reach the last six months. The main US Embassy is in Abu Dhabi, but as you are in Dubai you can go to the US consulate, which is housed in the World Trade Centre by Trade Centre Roundabout on Sheikh Zayed Road. The consulate office is open Sundays to Thursdays from 12.30pm to 3pm. You will not be surprised to hear that security is very strict, so be prepared for some checks and potential delays. You can obtain the relevant form, called DS-82, online at www.abudhabi.usembassy.gov, or complete the paper forms while at the consulate itself. You will require two passport photos, but these must be regulation American size, which is two inches by two inches, plus a copy of the biographic page of your current passport. The cost of renewing your passport is Dh278, payable in cash or by credit card only and the passport will usually be ready in two to three weeks. You will not need to hand in your passport as the consulate will attach the new passport to the old one which contains your residence visa.

I have a query regarding a UK pension. I receive a pension income of £7,600 (Dh46,000) a year from a previous employer and later this year I am due to take a pension from another company. I completed and returned all the forms, and as the value of the plan is just £5,400, I asked for it all to be paid to me as cash as what they call a "trivial" payment. But I have been told they cannot do this. Can I argue the case, as otherwise the annual income is just £400?

MF Dubai Under the triviality rules pertaining to UK pensions, it is possible to give up your pension rights and receive a cash sum, between the ages of 60 and 75, but only provided the total value is below a specified level. The total value of all your pension rights must not exceed 1 per cent of the lifetime allowance, which in the 2009/10 tax year stands at £1.75 million. So the triviality limit is £17,500. Your existing pension started in 2005, so in order to calculate its capital value we use a factor of 25:1, and therefore, the value is considered to be £190,000. Slightly different calculations apply for personal and occupational pensions depending on when benefits are taken. You will see, therefore, that by using the correct government guidelines the real value of your pensions are considerably in excess of the triviality limits and thus you have no option but to take the monies from your second pension plan under normal rules, being a tax-free cash sum plus an annual income.

In a previous column you stated that in the event of a husband's death all joint bank accounts would be frozen. I spoke to my own bank about this and they told me that they don't do that and that I need not worry about accessing money if my husband dies. Is this really the case? WM Abu Dhabi While your bank may have told you that it is not internal policy to freeze joint bank accounts, it is UAE law that this should happen on the death of a husband. I am aware of which bank is telling their customers this, but you must not rely on their comments. First, they are technically breaking UAE law, and second, this policy could easily change. I know of another bank that had the same internal policy, but changed it overnight prior to a merger with another bank. I recommend that you always plan for a worst-case scenario and ensure that you have access to monies in your own account, offshore or in your home country.

Have a problem? If so, e-mail Keren Bobker at onyourside@thenational.ae Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. She can be reached at keren@holbornassets.com