student Universities to be held accountable under Consumer Protection legislation?Looks like no-one is exempt from a requirement to answer to consumers. Universities now have students as customers, paying a fairly hefty £9,000 a year for their course, and some of these consumers are getting a little shirty when the product they are given does not match up to what they signed up for.

Stories abound of students who are forced to change courses, or take on a dual-honour at the last minute, to the perceived detriment to their grades and, potentially their overall degree classification. And when they leave University, they become the product they are trying to sell…

Last month, the OFT issued a report which warned that last-minute alterations to courses and fees might actually be in breach of consumer legislation. While the report acknowledged that bad practices were not “pervasive”, it concluded that there was still significant scope for clarifying students’ legal rights as consumers-  universities’ responsibilities towards students as consumers. The OFT was happy to accept “some degree of reasonable change” but Universities who give themselves “excessive discretion” could be challenged under consumer protection law.

Now, the new Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which replaced the OFT from this  month, has decided it is so concerned, it is actually going to do something about it. The CMA has now announced a compliance review of the higher education sector, to be held “in the near future”, which will examine whether universities are giving students a fair deal for their annual £9,000 fees, voicing fears that universities could be breaking consumer protection law by changing degree courses once students are already enrolled- and most importantly, their fees banked.

Sally Hunt, general secretary at the University and College Union (UCU) which represents academic staff, says its members fear course changes will become more widespread.

“Students often base their choice of institution on course content, so it’s imperative that universities strive to maintain the offer that students have signed up to,” she says. “Students are now paying a premium to attend university and deserve to receive the education they have been promised. [We are] concerned that the continued squeeze on teaching budgets will lead to these types of changes becoming more widespread as institutions seek to find savings and trim back courses which are less profitable.”

Of course, we are a long way off any University being fined under any consumer legislation, but these developments do go some way to protecting students as consumers, and in highlighting the requirement of any service provider to provide a service as described. Shame this latest review will only benefit students…

Train company get hammered on Twitter

April 24th, 2014 1 Comment By Mof Gimmers

There’s a lot of companies on Twitter who really don’t understand how the thing works. The NYPD decided to ask New York residents to send them photos, with predictable results.

The folks running Greater Anglia’s Twitter account have also dropped a clanger. What started off with a typical complaint – ‘A bus drove straight by me without stopping’ – continued with the usual apologies and platitudes. Then, thanks to tweets being signed-off, you could see a handover and the second person involved in the complaint, in short, got their arses handed to them.

‘JA’ asked someone else chipping in on the conversation to “please refrain from routinely contacting other users who are not your own followers via our feed.” In short, Greater Anglia were telling someone who they can and can’t talk to in a public forum.

greater anglia twitter 500x219 Train company get hammered on Twitter

Apparently, this is company policy. The policy being that Greater Anglia can block someone because they’re talking to someone. Of course, Greater Anglia can block who they like, but their reasons are, frankly, baffling.

Naturally, this soon caught the attention of others and, soon enough, everyone was queuing up to take the piss out of Greater Anglia.

If you want to watch a load of people mocking someone for being wilfully thick, have a scroll through this. This is a good lesson in how to run your social media account badly.

Edit: The original tweet seems to have been removed, but there’s more here.

‘A badger ate my wall’

April 24th, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

Successful home insurance claims aren’t just about humdrum leaky pipes or articulated lorries crashing into the front of your house. At the RIAS, amongst the 400,000 insurance claims they receive a year, there’s a regular stream of wild and wacky incidents involving babies vomiting on laptops, badgers chewing through masonry and squirrels breaking windows.

badger ‘A badger ate my wall

In their top ten of strange claims, a snail ate £78 worth of carpet at a man’s house in Preston, a pigeon fell down a chimney and destroyed the carpet, ornaments and sofa, causing £8000 worth of damage, and a woman locked a badger in her shed, which then ate through her wall. There was also the deer who fell into a swimming pool.

But the piece de resistance has to be the dog from Galashiels, who saw another dog on the telly and TRIED TO JUMP THROUGH THE SCREEN.

With the weary air of someone who has seen it all before, Peter Corfield, managing director of the RIAS said:

‘Sometimes it’s the most unlikely events that can end up causing real damage. Not all claims are straightforward and sometimes we do see some bizarre scenarios. But, saying that, babies and animals are often the culprits.’

90s student loan borrowers to get refunds

April 23rd, 2014 1 Comment By Lucy Sweet

Did you go to university in the 90s? Did you wear tie dye and bad combat trousers and skin up on a copy of Dodgy’s first album?

90s raver 300x300 90s student loan borrowers to get refunds

WELL, here’s some good news for this generation of frazzled ravers. Due to a long running paperwork eff-up, thousands of student loan borrowers will be getting money taken off their loans, and in some cases are actually getting REFUNDS. Hurray!

58,000 former students with debts from before 1998 were affected by this long term correspondence error by the Student Loans Company, which was technically a breach of the Consumer Credit Act.

They sent letters to borrowers who missed two or more repayments saying their account was in arrears. They also should have sent individual statements of arrears to people with multiple loans, but instead combined their overall arrears in one document. This is against the Consumer Credit Act of 2008.

Since 2013 the SLC has been under the auspices of Erudio Student Loans, and there’s a lot of sorting out to do in order to rectify the mistake. So, if you’ve been affected, the SLC will write to you before the end of May. And if you were in arrears between 2008-13, you’ll be refunded any interest and charges paid since you received your arrears letter from the SLC. One person has already been refunded a staggering £816.

YAY! Let’s all pile into a camper van, go to Glastonbury and buy some acid off a guy called Spud!

Tesco in new wave of new wave of price cuts

April 23rd, 2014 1 Comment By Ian Wade

tesco NEW Tesco in new wave of new wave of price cutsTesco is getting ready to lay down a fresh round of price cuts and a sort-out of its home shopping charges.

The supermarket leader has said it has dropped the price of more than 30 staples, such as bacon, eggs, sugar and bread. Although actual staples remain unaffected.

It is their response to the ongoing war against discount shops such as Aldi and Lidl.

Last week Tesco reported a second year of falling profits, with a 3% tumble – the worst yet since Philip Clarke took over from Sir Terry Leahy in 2011.

Clarke has promised more stable prices, as his shoppers tire of mixed messages pricewise across their shops. Where the Express stores seem to exist in a weird orbit up against its own bigger branches.

So now they’ve taken the Asda model of ‘everyday low price’ discounting, in a bid to tackle the permanent threat of the discount shops. Asda themselves have promised to spend £1 billion in cutting prices in the next five years.

With home-shopping a key battleground for the supermarkets, Tesco said it would stop charging for click-and-collect grocery orders. The service, available in 260 of its stores, used to charge shoppers £3 per order at the weekend and £2 on a weekday. Tesco is also to offer one-hour home delivery slots for as little as £1 for the first time.

The changes bring it into line with Asda, which already offers free click-and-collect on grocery orders and a £1 delivery charge, albeit with a two-hour delivery window.

gavel 300x200 Now it will cost you more to stand up for your rightsConsumer justice just got more expensive. For many people, small claims court offers the opportunity for aggrieved consumers to obtain financial redress through the court system, at a relatively low cost. However, from today, most small claims court fees are set to increase massively, in a move that will dismay and deter many consumers.

From 22 April, the cost to make a claim of between £3,000 and £5,000 will rise by 71% from £120 to £205. Worse, the fee for claims from £5,000 to £10,000 will go up by almost 82% from £245 to £445. So much for small claims court being a ‘low-cost’ means of resolving disputes without the need for a lawyer. The Ministry of Justice claims the new pricing structure is “crucial” to cover the cost of cases.

Although small claims court can be used by small businesses claiming for unpaid invoices, it is commonly used by consumers to resolve disputes over faulty or incomplete work, or failures under consumer acts, like when stores refuse to refund faulty goods.

If you are on benefits or have a low income, fees may be waived and it is important to note that the fees for the smallest claims, those under £1,000, remain unchanged, on a sliding scale between £35 and £70. All fees are cheaper if using the Government’s MoneyClaimOnline service.

However, Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice thinks small claims court is a last resort, warning that claimants could still end up out of pocket even if they win, if the compensation awarded doesn’t cover the costs or they need to pay more to enforce the ruling: “Cases can drag on for years, and people often recover minimal compensation after paying off their other costs.”

Alternative dispute resolution services, such as mediation, or ombudsman schemes (assuming there is one that covers the service/product you are disputing) might be a more cost effective route to a similar result.

Household spending eased in March

April 22nd, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

According to a survey by Lloyd’s bank, our essential household spending slowed down last month, growing by less than 1%. Food costs have eased, and the fall in petrol prices has helped. This is also causing inflation to go down: in March it fell by 1.6%.

money jar 300x300 Household spending eased in March

So should we all be breathing a sigh of relief?

Well, Lloyds are optimistically seeing this slowdown as economic improvement, rather than desperate cost-cutting measures by people who can’t actually afford to buy food or to run their cars. Patrick Foley from Lloyds, no doubt wearing a striped shirt from Thomas Pink and leafing through a copy of Top Gear magazine, said:

‘The economic backdrop for consumers continues to improve, as ongoing growth in employment, and pay growth that finally begins to keep pace with inflation, feeds through to rising confidence.

As pressure on consumer wallets from essential spending continues to ease, both the willingness and capacity to undertake discretionary spending is likely to rise in the months ahead.’

Er, maybe hold your horses with your ‘discretionary spending’ on a gazebo and a new nest of tables, though – we’re not out of the woods yet. Energy bills still went up by 3%. Meanwhile, 71% of people surveyed in the Lloyd’s Spending Power survey said that the financial situation in Britain was ‘not good at all’. And pretty much everybody in the North East is unemployed and feeling very bleak indeed.

But apparently we’re slowly paying off our debts and consumer confidence is gradually improving. Unless you’re on the dole and eating your own hair, that is.

grave 300x300 Hargreaves Lansdown will take care of your ISA  so long as you never dieOver the past few months, investment houses and fund shops have come under scrutiny over new and ‘improved’ fees and charges information. While these charges might seem small at the time (if you even see them), the power of compound growth means they can have a huge impact on the size of your investment at the time you come to draw on it.

The UK’s largest fund supermarket, Hargreaves Lansdown, was criticised for high charges earlier in the year, which resulted in some of those charges being reduced owing to market pressures. Now, it seems, there is another sneaky charge, which will get all of us in the end.

When someone dies, their executor has to collect together information on all of their assets to ascertain whether inheritance tax is due, and to whom the asset will pass. If someone dies holding an ISA, then the executor needs to request the relevant information from the ISA provider.

Now Hargreaves Lansdown is under fire again for levying noticeably higher charges for these probate valuations that anyone else. Under their pricing structure, when an investor dies, Hargreaves also charges £36 per fund including VAT for a probate valuation with a minimum £120 and a maximum £600. So if someone held ten funds in their portfolio, the charge would be £360, paying the full whack on 17 funds plus.

But it doesn’t have to cost that much. Charles Stanley Direct makes no charge for a probate valuation, though it will charge £5 if you want it posted. Bestinvest and TD Direct Investing each charge £12 per fund, putting them in the mid-range, and three times cheaper than Hargreaves Lansdown.

The Share Centre charges £50 to administer the affairs of a deceased customer, no matter how many funds or accounts they hold and large fund supermarkets Fidelity Personal Investing and Barclays Stockbrokers do not charge for  probate valuations.

Danny Cox, of Hargreaves Lansdown, told This is Money: “The charge for the probate valuation includes the administration of the account. Until recently we did not charge for probate valuations and the administration of an estate.

“Our new pricing aims to be proportionate and charge those clients fairly for the services they use. The process of administering a deceased client’s holdings is labour-intensive and our charges reflect this.”

Hargreaves Lansdown also highlights its customer service and the efficiency of its systems. Given its size and efficiency, therefore, some groups are questioning why on earth Hargreaves Lansdown need to charge so much more than competitors-

“It is one thing to make a small administration charge, another to make a profit. Why would it cost Hargreaves three times more to administer probate than it costs other companies?” said James Daley of Fairer Finance, a website that aims to get a better deal for consumers.

He went on to describe Hargreaves Lansdown as “heartless and crass” for “making money out of bereaved people”, finishing that “as the market leader and a FTSE 100 company, you would expect them to set  an example.”

Yes, an example of how to make 66p profit per £1 of income. Even out of dead people.

Customers getting pay-outs from missold CPP

April 17th, 2014 6 Comments By Mof Gimmers

creditcards Customers getting pay outs from missold CPPA lot of people got insurance products that offered card protection or identity fraud protection from a business called Card Protection Plan (CPP).

Many obtained it through their banks and credit card issuers. However, the Financial Conduct Authority ruled that a lot of these products were mis-sold and fined CPP £10.5m in 2012.

Well, it seems like CPP are finally getting the cheques out to customers who put a claim in, and some of them are getting paid around £1,000 for their trouble.

If you haven’t put a claim in, you’ve still got until 30th August to get some money back.

You should’ve received a letter from CPP, which you may have thrown away thinking that it was a circular, but no worries.

You can get information about their compensation scheme by visiting or call them on a freephone number at 08000 83 43 93. If you’re outside the UK, then dial +44 1144 520 800. If you have had a form, but think you’ve completed it incorrectly, then call the number and ask for a new one, then complete it in black ink, in block capitals and send it back in the pre-paid envelope.

Separate letters are being sent if you happen to have been mis-sold card and identity protection. Fill out both forms to claim for your compensation.

As ever, with things like this, be wary of scams. If you have any concerns it is always best to ring CPP to make sure. Good luck, and give us a yell if you get some money from them!

virgin media logo2 300x281 Virgin Media   still getting the hang of emailVirgin Media have had to apologise to customers after an email distribution list error.

Anyone pressing ‘reply all’ on a recent customer service email was sent out, was able to message everyone on the mailing list.

The email was sent to inform the company’s customers of new changes to Google services.

Soon many customers inboxes were filled with up to 700 emails, many of them spam or just customers having a bit of banter.

Virgin Media said the problem related to a “sub set” of its email customers, but it did not know the precise number affected.

According to the BBC, Bob Alexander, 69, from Taunton, said he had suffered “a great deal of inconvenience and stress” after receiving more than 700 emails.

“I am a quadriplegic and to delete 700 emails from my Blackberry handset has taken me all evening.”

Naturally a Virgin Media bot was on hand to trot out the traditional “We apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

The tools.

neil diamond 300x300 Neil Diamond costs foolish phone user over £2600It doesn’t take a genius to work out that downloading stuff abroad is likely to incur roaming charges. However, it seems you need to be cleverer than a maths teacher, after a Warwickshire woman failed to calculate that an £8.99 album would cost over £2,600 once roaming charges were added.

Teacher Katie Bryan, 43, was visiting her boyfriend’s family in South Africa when she decided to download a multiple-track “best of Neil Diamond” CD from iTunes to her phone for £8.99. When she returned to the UK, she was dismayed to find that, not only did she still have a Neil Diamond album on her phone, her bank account was more than £2,000 overdrawn after Orange took a direct debit of £2,609.31.

No-one, not even Miss Bryan herself, can explain what possessed her. She admits to having had “a bit” of wine, but claims it was “not too much”, thereby scotching the drunk-and-didn’t-know-what-I-was-doing excuse. She can’t even claim the moral high ground on musical taste despite describing herself as “really not that big a Neil Diamond fan”, after admitting to not only owning a Neil Diamond cd in the UK, but actually having it in her car, as well as claiming to be “more of a James Blunt fan”.

Upon her return to the UK, Miss Bryan called Orange, who laughed at her were initially unable to help her, reiterating the published tariffs which meant her 20 minute download, which used 326 MB of data, had been charged at £8 per megabyte once her 10MB monthly foreign allowance had been used up. Nevertheless an enterprising employee then came up with the solution of selling her a backdated bundle which would bring the data cost down to a still-scandalous £400.

Unfortunately, the powers that be at Orange tried to rescind the offer, entitled as they rightly were to the full £2,600, but last Friday the executive office agreed to the £400 compromise, refunding the hapless teacher £2,209.31. Orange also apologised for the stress they had caused. Presumably adhering to the customer service school of the customer is always right, even when they are an idiot.

Miss Bryant said: “I think Orange are preying on people who make a mistake while abroad. Why such a massive difference in cost? In England you would just pay the album price. There is no way this huge bill relates to the actual cost to Orange.” Grossly inflated roaming costs are currently under investigation by the European Commission within the EU, but this would not have helped someone holidaying in South Africa. Besides, no phone company ever claimed that roaming costs bore any resemblance to the costs incurred.

Miss Bryant continued bleating: “You hear of people doing this and you think ‘stupid person – why did you do that?’ I do feel foolish.” No-one, anywhere, argued with her.

“But I also feel it is morally wrong to be expected to pay this sort of money for a Neil Diamond album” she finished. Now there’s something we can agree with.

Fare dodging arse gets caught

April 14th, 2014 7 Comments By Ian Wade

oyster swipe Fare dodging arse gets caughtFare dodging can be quite funny. Although we’re talking mainly as in a ‘happy accident’ way, and nothing to the level of a hedge fund manager avoiding £42,550.

That’s an actual pisstake.

The git-heel would travel from Stonegate in East Sussex, and regularly travelled back and forth to the capital. He’d get off at London Bridge and then change for his office in Cannon Street, which with his Oyster, would cost a third less than his whole journey.

The station at Stonegate has no Oyster tappy barriers, and so his usual journey was significantly less when tapping in and out of Cannon Street.

He also successfully avoided any ticket inspectors on the trains.

He was discovered last November, when a ticket inspector was standing at a terminal at Cannon Street and spotted awry behaviour. He paid back the £42,550 in dodged fares, plus £450 in legal costs, within three days as part of an out-of-court settlement.

Southeastern trains were made aware of the man’s expired season ticket hadn’t been updated since 2008.

He has, unsurprisingly, also now updated his season ticket.

Customer fines Npower £50 for ineptitude

April 11th, 2014 1 Comment By Thewlis

npowerlate 220x300 Customer fines Npower £50 for ineptitudeYou know how it is when a service provider provides a bad service and you just wish you could fine them, or charge them for your wasted time trying to sort out their  incompetence? Well that’s exactly what one man has done, after getting increasingly frustrated with Npower’s apparent inability to refund his credit balance after he switched supplier.

Dave Clark, was not only sick of not finding a cheque on his doormat every morning, but was also getting more and more peeved at receiving final demand letters from Npower, when it was they who owed him money since the previous November.

So he decided to respond in kind. He wrote and emailed npower using the language from their demands, culminating in the issue of a final demand  (complete with obligatory red capital letters) which included a £50 fine on top of the £137.41 he had overpaid. And Npower not only paid it, they apologised.

Mr Clark, who outlined the whole sorry process on his website, said: “I’m satisfied. The regulator should be looking into the days and weeks it takes to pay someone’s money back and if the likes of Npower persistently refuse to give money back straight away they should be fined heavily.

“They’re very quick to bill the rest of us so perhaps if we all hit them with charges they would realise they need to improve service.”

Guy Esnouf, director of external communications at Npower said: “We are very sorry. Where we know we’ve caused inconvenience we’ll look to a goodwill gesture because we don’t want to cause our customers inconvenience.”

Mr Esnouf added: “We said in December we are having system problems. We are making good progress, but we made it clear we wanted to improve, we are trying to improve and we are.”

So surely now everyone else to whom Npower owe money can expect a nice windfall and better service…

zzzw4 300x195 Tesco stands firm on nuts may contain nuts labelsTesco have defended their mildly demented ‘May Contain Nuts’ labelling after a social media backlash thing.

Allergy campaigners had been all up in the retailer’s grill recently, about unnecessary warnings on such products as yoghurt, sweet potatoes and ham.


Tesco had argued that the warning labels were only be applied to items if there was a genuine risk of cross contamination.

It’s not just loony labelling when you have a nut allergy. Oh no. Many of the campaigners were parents of nut-allergy nippers, and it’s no joke when trying to prevent them from death by potentially nutty ham.

New EU rules on allergy labelling are due to come into force later this year, and retailers have started to amend their packaging to suit.

But as many campaigners wonder if it’s a ‘one size fits all’ legal disclaimer which can be pointed out when challenged, is in fact highlighting a myriad of issues that suggest standards aren’t being fully adhered to.

And dear God, we can do without another month of weak puns on twitter that happened in the wake of the horse meat crisis.

Here comes Atom, the bank with no phones!

April 10th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

Bank 300x193 Here comes Atom, the bank with no phones!The co-founder of Metro Bank and First Direct’s former boss are planning to launch a digital bank.

Former Metro Bank chairman Anthony Thomson and Mark Mullen, who until last month was chief executive of First Direct, HSBC’s online portal are creating Atom, which they plan to launch next year to be an online only affair.

It will have a full range of services, including savings accounts, loan products and credit cards.

There will be a helpline for customers experiencing technical difficulties, but they will not be able to do bank things on it.

Talking about the reasons behind Atom, Thomson said: ”Telephony as a means of accessing bank accounts is in decline. All of the explosive growth is in digital generally and mobile in particular.”

“Designed entirely for the digital age and with none of the legacy issues of the past, Atom will be UK’s first real alternative to the established banks. Atom will be led and governed by an experienced and imaginative team who have a passion for people and know what it takes to put the customer at the heart of an organisation.”

There’ll be no physical branches and there will be an HQ based in the north east of England, should you become so angry you want to do a dirty protest around actual humans.