DEAR MARGARET: Can Ryanair refuse to pay our £1,078 ash cloud claim?

Last year, as a result of the volcanic ash cloud, our Ryanair return flight from Tenerife on April 18 was cancelled the night before our departure. we were advised to contact their website for re-booking or a refund.

The next available Ryanair flight was 13 days later on May 1. we needed to get back earlier and were able to book a flight on another carrier on April 27.

Ryanair provided a refund of the unused return tickets, but is refusing to pay our hotel bills of €1,263 (£1,078).

I have completed their claim requirements to the letter, but Ryanair says that, as I did not wait for its return flight, it is obliged to provide only a refund for the unused flight ticket.

Mrs J.I., Colchester, Essex.

Dear Margaret cartoon

AIrlInes' responsibilities to customers following a flight cancellation are set out in regulation EU261. Briefly, if you wait for another flight with the same carrier, you get reasonable hotel accommodation; if you elect to get home as quickly as possible using another carrier, all you get are a couple of free phone calls and the refund of your cancelled ticket.

However, I cannot believe you would have elected to come back to the UK a mere three nights earlier  -  having been stuck on Tenerife for nine days  -  had you known it was going to cost you £1,078 as opposed to nothing had you waited for the Ryanair flight.

As it was, you saved Ryanair £1,436  -  your bill plus the extra nights' hotel stay.

Ryanair told me all information about EU legislation was on its website under its terms and conditions section, which customers agree to accept.

But you must trawl down to section 9.2 to find information on cancellations for those who 'elect to be re-routed to their final destination' and then click to another website to read about the EU regulation.

Ryanair then came back to say there is a much clearer explanation in its FAQs              (frequently asked questions) section.

The Air transport Users Council has received similar complaints about other airlines, and would like a review of this regulation. I'd like to see a travel Industry ombudsman who, like the Financial Ombudsman, could require companies to apply common sense and fairness in situations such as these.

I work in a Bupa care home. Over the past three years, donations from residents and their relations to staff had by Christmas accumulated to just over £4,000.

We were each told we had £50 to buy something for ourselves and to bring in the receipt.

Most of us did this and received our £50. at the beginning of January, head office turned round and said we had to pay back £29.50, as they have to tax us at 41 pc on the money.

I want to know why I have to pay tax at 41 pc on a gift.

Mrs D.J., Mitcham, Surrey.

I'm afraid the iron fist of Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs has smashed the Christmas gifts from friends and relatives of your residents who value your work and wished to thank you.

The policy at Bupa  -  and, indeed, at other establishments, such as restaurants, where discretionary payments are the norm  -  is to put the donations or tips into a staff fund to benefit the workers.

The taxman's view is that any cash, vouchers or gifts given from the staff fund are all taxable, because the people receiving-them have done so due to their employment at, in your case, Bupa. And it is not only the basic-rate tax of 20 pc which is deducted, but employees' national Insurance contributions of 11 pc as well.

And that adds up to 31 pc, not the 41 pc your care home wants to deduct.

I'm afraid this was nothing but a careless mistake in calculation made at the place you work and doe sn' t affect othe r Bupa homes.

Of course, anyone who has repaid 41 pc, is being reimbursed the overpayment. Bupa has apologised to all concerned and is taking steps to ensure that, in future, everyone has the correct information to deal with this tax situation.

Chased for a bill we had paid

I am being chased by T-Mobile for a bill which was paid in December 2008.

When the bill, for £54.15, was presented by a debt collection agency, my boyfriend settled it.

Then another bill arrived from different debt firm for £262.31.

Again my boyfriend paid and we received confirmation (which I cannot find).

Now, I have received a letter from another debt collector claiming that I still owe £262.31.

If it turns out that our payment never got through (although I cannot understand how that could have happened), I would pay it.

I have never disputed that I owed the money, but I believed it was paid.

Ms G.D., Tamworth.

When I read through the host of documents you enclosed, it occurred to me the disputed bill in question might actually refer to a termination charge rather than a bill for calls.

In one of the letters from a debt collection agency there is mention of a final bill of £312 which includes a termination fee of £308.

This letter also mentions a £50 payment from you  -  which would bring the outstanding amount down to the disputed £262.

However, T-Mobile decided it would write off the £262.31 as a gesture of goodwill. It is a generous offer.

But it does underline the need to keep your records in order. If you had, the issue would have been resolved, one way or the other, much earlier.

Straight to the point

I applIed to renew my European Health Insurance Card online. One website that came up was This looked official so I completed the application form, only to be asked to pay £9.99 to check the application. I thought the health insurance card was free.

B.D., by email.

It Is. there are lots of companies on the internet that will charge you a fee to make applications for things you can get for free. This is one of them. All this company will do is send on the details you have already filled out, and pocket the cash. The free, genuine website is

I want to switch energy suppliers, but I do not have the internet. do you know if any comparison websites have phone numbers?

A.R., Liverpool.

Always use a comparison service instead of signing up to a new energy deal with a salesman. There are 13 comparison sites accredited by Consumer Focus, nine of which have a phone service. 0845 652 1546; Energy Helpline 0800 074 0745; Energylinx 0800 849 7077; 0845 345 1296; simply switch: 08000 111 395; 0845 330 7247; UK Power 0800 093 2447; Uswitch 0800 404 7908 and which? switch 01992 822 867.

I have sold my house in the U.S. and have $400,000 (£248,000), which I need to exchange into sterling. are there better alternatives to my bank?

G.J., Slough.

Foreign currency exchange specialists such as HiFX (01753 859 159, and Money Corp (020 7589 3000, www. tend to offer better exchange rates.

I can't afford to save my full cash Isa allowance in one go. I want a fixed-rate Isa, but most of these do not allow you to top up at a later date once you have opened one. Any solution?

B.R., Otley, W Yorks.

Try Skipton BS regular saver Cash Isa. It pays a fixed rate of 3.25 pc for a year. you can pay in when you can afford it. the only proviso is the most you can put in in a month is £445. Call 0845 603 4735.

I recently came across an old Belfast Savings Bank book with a balance of 14 shillings and two pence (71p). Is it worth tracking down the money?

I.S., Lincolnshire.

Belfast savings is now First trust Bank (0845 6005 925).

The bank will send you a form to reclaim your cash. Any money in forgotten bank, building society or NS&I accounts can be reclaimed using the free service at www.

Write to Dear Margaret, Money Mail, Northcliffe House, London W8 5TT or email - please include your daytime phone number, postal address and a separate note addressed to the offending organisation giving them permission to talk to Margaret Stone. We regret we cannot reply to individual letters. Please do not send original documents as we cannot take responsibility for them. No legal responsibility can be accepted by the Daily Mail for answers given.