How I won back millions for readers – and an update on your favourite cases

Most of us didn’t know what it meant to live through tough times until this year’s pandemic. From friends and family members to incomes and livelihoods, 2020 has meant millions have lost someone, or something, they loved.

All the cancelled family gatherings, social plans, occasions and holidays have left an eerie emptiness that has been filled by loneliness, fear and other unwelcome feelings.

But now that the vaccine is being rolled out, things are finally looking up – and next week it’s Christmas. Despite the difficulties, this year has given us time to reflect on and fully appreciate the people and things we hold dear.

Something I’ve been grateful for is being able to keep this column going each week. Never before have readers needed as much support as they have over the past few months.

Since March I have been having your letters redirected to my house, where I now work remotely. Aside from my two cats causing mayhem by pouncing on piles of paper, the transition has been seamless. In fact, I’m delighted to share with you that this calendar year, this column has won back a record £2,061,000 for readers.

This includes money refunded, compensated, located and written off and brings the total winnings since the launch of Katie Morley Investigates in May 2019 above £3m for the first time – to £3,385,911, to be precise.

Despite companies regurgitating nauseating “be kind” slogans and trumpeting their own charitable activities, many are miserably failing the customer base they rely on.

In 2020 the lives of banking customers have been turned upside down by a tsunami of fraud. The volume of mail I’ve received from people who have had their life savings stolen by scammers has risen steeply. Despite winning back about £700,000 for fraud victims this year, it saddens me deeply to know I have barely scratched the surface.

Another rising complaint is insurance not paying out. Yes, insurers have had an expensive year thanks to Covid-19, but isn’t the very point of their existence to identify and quantify risk? They should have been perfectly prepared for a pandemic, yet the way many have tried to wriggle out of paying out has been a disgrace. The worst offenders have been travel and wedding insurers, but the mayhem seems to have spilled over into other areas of insurance, too.

I’ve also noticed bereaved customers across all companies receiving substandard care this year. Usually firms have special teams to deal with those who are grieving, but this year they appear to have been depleted as staff are redeployed to other departments. Firms are happy to blame “the virus” for slow service and poor treatment, but I’m afraid this won’t wash with anyone, least of all those who have lost loved ones at a time like this.

The sums of money retrieved for readers in 2020 have varied drastically, from a refund for a £6.99 breakfast to finding a lost life insurance policy worth £493,000. But behind each letter is a human enduring some form of struggle, and it is always my pleasure to ease their burden. Many of you have requested updates on how previous correspondents from these pages are now getting on, so I caught up with some of them to find out.

I’ve had stacks of inquiries about the woman who confided in me about her coercive husband leading a secret double life for 20 years and tricking her out of £900,000. She maintained the lawyers who arranged a remortgaging of her family home had let her down by failing to make her fully aware of what she was signing.

The lawyers refused to admit fault, but I vowed to fight the case all the way. Following publication, I decided to contact the law firm’s professional indemnity insurers to let them know the woman intended to take the firm to court. I invited it to make a settlement.

It requested a vast list of information from the woman, which took her many days to compile. Weeks passed before a pathetically brief brush-off email addressing none of the requested detail landed in her inbox. No settlement was offered. I felt it was incredibly disrespectful. Now, after months of persistence, the insurer has finally agreed to mediation to discuss a settlement.

I have suggested she may want to seek professional help with this, due to the large sum of money at stake. I am hopeful she will receive a settlement in the new year without going to court, but in the meantime, she is looking forward to spending Christmas with her daughter, who has been her rock throughout this fiasco. And as for her husband? You may not be surprised to hear that he remains as uncooperative as ever.

Readers may also remember the young mother who wrote at the start of the first lockdown in March to say her £200,000 breast cancer insurance payout was in jeopardy due to bungled GP notes. After inspecting her medical record, which falsely claimed she smoked and had been through the menopause, I made a desperate plea to her insurer, Legal & General, to pay the claim. Happily L&G coughed up, which was a huge relief.

I caught up with her last week and despite everything, she was doing very well. Working in the arts, she has seen her income fall greatly this year, so the payout has been extremely welcome. She invested some of the payout for her children’s future, and is looking forward to spending a cosy Christmas with them.

I’m also delighted to share a cheering update from another cancer sufferer I helped earlier this year. Her husband wrote to me after Axa declined to pay £16,000 for a colon cancer operation, because her GP said it could be done within six weeks on the NHS. However, this turned out not to be the case and she paid out of her own pocket.

I’m delighted to report that following the operation, which was in the end paid for by Axa, and despite her treatment being ended early due to the pandemic, she is now cancer free. The couple are feeling more thankful than ever and will spend a quiet Christmas together at home.

And finally, a number of you have been asking about Trojan, the brown and white horse who mysteriously disappeared in the North East. I was left deeply unimpressed after his seller appeared to lie to me about his past, leaving us all concerned for his safety.

Despite my best efforts to locate him, I’m afraid he was never found, although we had a couple of warm leads. The lady who tried to buy him told me the seller’s equestrian website had disappeared, leading me to wonder whether Trading Standards shut it down after my tip-off. I hope that was the case, as I love to see justice served.

All that’s left to do now before I take a break for Christmas is to say thank you for reading and writing in with your problems. You have kept me going through this rotter of a year, which we will all be glad to see the back of. However you are spending it, whether it be alone or with loved ones, I wish you a peaceful Christmas. Let’s hope 2021 brings health and happiness for us all.

The full Katie Morley Investigates column will appear in print every Saturday and Sunday. You can get an early taste every Friday at 12:00

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