| 12.3°C Belfast

A question of money: Can you advise on the best way to settle a student loan?

Question: My daughter wants to pay off her student loan but can't get any help from the Student Loans Company about how to do it.

They don't reply to her emails and the people who answer the phone are very vague. She can't access her account online, she didn't get a statement last year and she has not had one this year; so even if she knew the procedure for paying it off, she wouldn't be able to do it.

Answer: A spokeswoman for the Student Loans Company says: “We are sorry that one of our customers is having difficulty making repayments. We have a dedicated repayment phone line for customers: 0845 0738 891, which is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 5.30pm. Customers can also find out about using their online account, making payments, acquiring a password and resetting their accounts at www.studentloanrepayment.co.uk . This provides full information for customers on repayingtheir loans. Customers can access an online calculator that provides a balance for their accounts and calculates interest so the customer can choose to pay either in part or in full.”

Question: Can you explain what is happening to annuity rates. I have been tracking the best joint annuity rate for those aged 60 (50% spouse, 3% annual escalation) on the website Sharingpensions.co.uk since December 2008. Over this period the annuity rate has declined by 13%. Over the same period, the price for various long-dated gilts has gone down in a range of 4 to 9%, so yields have gone up. So reduced yields is not the explanation. What other factors have an affect on annuity rates and is this decline likely to continue?

Answer: Tom McPhail, the head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdown, explains: "Annuity rates have effectively decoupled from gilt yields over the past couple of years. There are a number of factors in play at present, all contributing to a decline in annuity rates. Improving life expectancy continues to force insurers to adjust their payout terms because they have to stretch the income payments over longer periods. They don't know when, or indeed if, this trend will run out of steam." Other factors that have negatively affected annuity rates include the anxiety in the capital markets, which caused insurers to increase capital reserves, and the tendency of people in poor health to obtain individually underwritten annuity policies, which has had the effect of removing their subsidy from the general annuity pool. "All this means that even if gilt yields do suddenly shoot upwards, you shouldn't expect annuity rates to go rushing after them," adds McPhail.

On May 5 I was due to fly to Belfast from East Midlands Airport, with BMI Baby. The flight was cancelled because of the Icelandic ash problem, so I used the ferry from Stranraer instead. My wife phoned the airport car parking agency and told them I wished to cancel my booking. East Midlands Airport gave me a letter to show my insurer to ask them to pay, but they refused. The car park company still refuses to refund my £22.99.

East Midlands Airport waives charges for car parking incurred because of the volcanic ash problem and for booked parking not used for this reason. It says it was not previously aware of the reason for your cancellation. If you reapply specifying your issue relates to volcanic ash you will be given a full refund.

Belfast Telegraph