There could be more bad news for the Government’s blighted Green Deal scheme. A new ruling by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) could mean that Green Deal operators face having to hand back tens of thousands of pounds to consumers after the Green Deal Finance Company was found to have mis-sold the cash-saving benefits of the scheme in their advertising literature.
The ASA ruled on three separate issues- marketing claims that the Green Deal payment plans are the cheapest on the market, assurances that the so-called Golden Rule would deliver “peace of mind” with financial savings that were equal to or greater than the costs attached to the energy bill and the failure to publish details of hidden charges, including arrangement and assessment fees, as well as exit penalties.
While the ASA ruling itself does not affect Green Deals already done- it merely requires the offending advertisements be removed or revised- consumer lawyers are warning that the ruling could set a precedent for disgruntled consumers to seek redress for Green Deal mis-selling.
Consumer law solicitor Kerry Gwyther, a partner at leading national law firm TLT, explained that while the ASA ruling does not necessarily mean potential Green Deal mis-selling cases are in the bag, it is often a good starting point for claims of misrepresentation.
“The ASA normally use Trading Standards’ levels of determining misleading claims and its rulings do go a long way in helping to present a successful case. While there is no automatic right of action, the ASA ruling very often means the advertising is in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations that can lead to further action being taken,” he explained.
“A consumer is entitled to take proceedings using Common Law and some parts of the Consumer Protection legislation if, as a result of this ruling, they feel they have been misled into signing up for the Green Deal. If a consumer has been induced to enter into an agreement by misleading claims, a court may well find in the consumer’s favour and they may well be able to walk away from the contract without further payments or seek damages for any losses suffered” he added, sagely.
Advertising law specialist Mike Northern agreed , commenting that consumers would now be able to use the ASA ruling in any future court action, suggesting that “a judge would be influenced to find in favour of an application supported by an ASA adjudication like this.”
The complaint was brought by South East-based Crystal Home Improvements, who were very concerned that consumers were being treated unfairly, and not at all concerned that Green Deal alternatives might be cutting into their profits.
A spokesman for the company told ClickGreen: “We are happy with the ASA decision that confirmed our suspicion that the Green Deal was being mis-sold to consumers. This is not the first time we have successfully challenged the Green Deal and we will continue to highlight the many disadvantages of this poorly run scheme.”
However, before getting too excited, it is important to note that the Green Deal Finance Company itself is a business to business organisation, and the ASA noted that leaflet ruled as misleading was probably not viewed by a vast number of people. Any claims of mis-selling would have to be made as a result of being fraudulently enticed by advertising using similar claims to those outlawed in this ruling.
Such stuff as attempted murder convictions, affairs, child abuse image collecting, and, well, anything you can imagine is the sort of thing people want to cover up.
Half the requests half come from the UK, from people who want love-child exposes written out of history, and – curiously – MPs who are seeking re-election. Businesses are also quite keen to remove links to forums where they’ve been kicked around by consumers.
Tax dodging is also a popular exploit that people seem keen to cover up too, although you get the impression that if this information was already in the “public” domain, then it will find some way of leaking out.
Following last weeks decision by the European Court of Justice, Google and their like may now face legal action if they refuse to remove information deemed inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant.
There are mixed feelings about this, with EU Commissioner Viviane Reding reckoning it was a victory for the protection of personal date, but old Wikipedia dude Jimmy Wales claims it is one of the most wide-sweeping censorship rulings he’d ever seen.
Still, at least we can wipe away our pasts as, for instance, bigamists, murderers and that week we went on a crack bender with some of the cast of that soap.
Taking screengrabs is going to become increasingly popular, eh?
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…
Consumer 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.
A case that has been rumbling for some time has now received judgement in the Court of Appeal. Previously, victims of financial loss as a result of mis-selling or inappropriate advice could take their case to the Financial Ombudsman and then also sue the financial firm allegedly responsible for the loss in civil court. The new judgment, on the back of opposing previous judgments, makes it clear that accepting Ombudsman compensation precludes complainants from later suing on the same matter.
While this might initially sound like a triumph of common sense, consumer groups are decrying this as a blow for consumer rights, given that some victims would use their Ombudsman payout, a process which is free, more streamlined and enables faster payouts, to enable them to fund a civil case. It is conceivable that those who have suffered financial loss at the hands of a shoddy adviser might not have oodles of cash with which to fight a court case.
Currently, the financial ombudsman can award maximum compensation of £150,000 to a customer who has suffered a loss due to issues such as negligence, poor financial advice or mis-selling.
The new ruling concerns the case of Barry Clark, 70, and his wife Julie, 68, of Portsmouth, who were clients of In Focus Asset Management and Tax Solutions. The firm advised them to invest the proceeds of the sale of a family business in a geared traded endowment plan. The product was unsuitable for their needs and ended up costing them losses of £500,000- so the couple complained to the ombudsman.
The ombudsman upheld the complaint and awarded the maximum compensation, which was £100,000 at the time. Mr and Mrs Clark then used the money to issue proceedings in the county court for additional losses.
In her judgment, handed down today, Lady Justice Arden acknowledged the way people were combining the two routes to compensation, but felt it was potentially harmful to consumers. She said: “If the Clarks succeed, a complainant may be able to use an award as a fighting fund for legal proceedings. On the face of it this result would be for consumers’ interests, but that is not necessarily so.
“If they lose court proceedings, it may lead to them losing all that they have gained through the FOS [Financial Ombudsman Scheme]. It may also lead to the development of a claims industry in this field that increases the costs of obtaining financial advice: there are already 210 ombudsmen and many more might be needed if a larger group of complainants can apply.” In 2013, the ombudsman received over 500,000 complaints, half of which were upheld, although this does include endless PPI compensation claims.
While many people would want to avoid the UK turning into as litigious a state as some others around the world, is it right that the Clarks are down £400,000 (and more now, after losing the case at appeal) with no means of further redress? Doesn’t this ruling mean that it will be only those who have pots of spare cash to fund a legal challenge who will be able to get their full compensation?
It seems as though with a percentage of the country now underwater, and flood warnings being handed out left right and centre, so it’s probably a sensible idea to see what you can do should you be affected.
It can’t be great to wonder what you can do, when half your possessions are either destroyed or floating out of your bedroom window, so The British Insurance Brokers’ Association and insurer Direct Line are offering advice on claiming for flood damage.
Here’s what they suggest:
What do you need to submit for an insurance claim?
Provide full details of the circumstances surrounding anything that’s been lost or damaged, plus any evidence of that. Take photographs of the damage to your home, contents or car, or film the footage. This may help provide proof.
How to claim if vital documents are damaged or destroyed
Seek copies from the relevant provider, such as the DVLA for motoring documents, brokers or insurers for duplicate insurance documents, utility providers and the Passport Office. Check Gov.uk for details on how to replace birth certificates.
What will insurers accept as evidence of ownership if items are really badly damaged, say if personal possessions have washed away?
Any photographs of you with that item when undamaged, or held by friends and relatives, will demonstrate you owned the relevant item. Also receipts, credit card bills or bank account statements that show purchases. Importantly, don’t throw away damaged possessions without first discussing it with your claims adviser, as they will need to be assessed.
What if you can’t get access to your home? What are insurers likely to do for you in the interim?
Home insurance nearly always includes cover for alternative accommodation.
How long do you have to make an insurance claim?
It can vary, but typically 180 days. It’s always best to act as swiftly as possible.
Who can people turn to for help?
A broker should help, as will the insurer and its loss adjuster. You may appoint a loss assessor at your own cost for a larger claim. If there are any disputes, you can complain to the independent Financial Ombudsman Service.
What if I plan to redecorate myself?
Don’t rush to redecorate your home as it can take weeks for a flood-damaged property to dry out. And don’t lift wet carpets unless absolutely necessary, as they may shrink.
What about protecting my home against a future flood?
Here are some tips for those who live in flood-prone areas:
• Ensure drains and gutters are clear of debris so rainfall can drain away.
• Place valuable and electrical items in high cupboards or on high floors to prevent damage.
• Ensure outdoor furniture and other items which are likely to float away are safely restrained.
• Store important documents in a watertight bag in a dry, accessible place, preferably upstairs.
• Make a list of useful numbers you may need – such as your insurer, local council, emergency services and Floodline: 0345 988 1188.
• Buy air brick covers or flood boards to block doorways.
Further information can be found at biba.org.uk
Humans are usually powerless against the onslaught of nuisance phone calls from their banks, but one woman has beaten them off with a stick and has been awarded £7500 in a landmark High Court ruling against the Halifax/Bank of Scotland.
Harrassed restaurant worker Amanda Roberts took the bank to task after receiving a staggering 547 phone calls in one year when she fell behind with repayments for a £7300 loan. Despite being off work with stress and telling them that she was already discussing the problem with her local branch, their call centre monkeys phoned from 8am to 9pm – and when they started calling her elderly parents instead, she decided to take legal action.
‘They wouldn’t stop ringing and when I asked for a supervisor they hung up on me. I was absolutely devastated and paralysed, I was angry, shaking and tearful. I couldn’t eat or sleep because of the calls.’ she gibbered.
Five years of bullshit later, the payout won’t even begin to cover Amanda’s £10,000 legal bills, but the Court of Appeal ruling is a very satisfying slap on the wrist for HBOS. The volume of calls was described as ‘intimidatory bullying’ and while Amanda probably won’t see a penny of her damages, it’s one in the eye for the big tossers.
HBOS mumbled: “We are confident that our policies and procedures have been updated, addressing the concerns raised.”
Now all stressed out Amanda needs is a few extra quid for therapy and a long soak in a spa for ooh, about five more years. Maybe HBOS could help her out with another loan?
You see the delivery van pull up and start punching the air because you are within seconds of getting your hands on the bargain of the century. Over at HUKD, HP sold some expensive graphics card valued at £585 for just £12. Before you say it, we know it sounds too good to be true but the course of events that followed led many to believe that they had bagged one of these heavily discounted bits of kit.
HP accepted the orders, processed them from the warehouse, took payment and then shipped these with DPD and confirmed this to their customers. However, quite a few over at HUKD are now saying that once DPD had arrived and scanned the item prior handing it over, HP had placed an alert to state that the item must NOT be delivered and instead retained by DPD before being returned to HP.
When considering your legal position in this situation you must review the Terms of Sale by HP. Commonly, a retailer will state that the contract is not formed when payment is taken but instead when they confirm that the item has been despatched. So, that was exactly what we expected to see when reviewing the Terms on the HP website but instead we found their likely get out clause:
“HP reserves the right to cancel any accepted order prior to delivery, at HP’s discretion (whether or not payment was made), and this in case of any material errors in connection with your order”
So, it seems that they probably CAN recall the product right up to the moment that their delivery company rocks up to shatter your dreams. However, within your Order Confirmation they also state:
”Correct prices and promotions are validated at the time your order is placed”
“We will send you an email with estimated delivery date once your order has been accepted”
By confirming that the item has been despatched they have accepted your order which is an integral part of the formation of a contract. They are also stating that prices are validated by them when your order is placed. We have the offer, the acceptance and they have your money (consideration). So, we have a contract, don’t we?
Quite clearly some confusion not just on our part but also from HP. We are currently waiting on a response from them to clarify their position.
A BBC investigation has learned that that almost 350,000 parking fines (totalling £23m) might have been issued unlawfully to London motorists. The investigation will be screen on Inside Out, on BBC1 London at 7.30pm on Monday, and will be viewable on iPlayer afterwards.
It all hinges on a ticket that was issued in a suspended parking bay in Camden, where the council didn’t have authorization for the signage. The sleuths at the Beeb have learned that 14 councils still have no authorisation for the signage. Which is a bit embarrassing.
In a stunning piece of loopholery, it seems that the Department for Transport (DfT) designs road signs for most situations, which authorities must use, but it has never produced a suspended parking bay sign. If no sign is set out by the DfT, the law says councils must ask the transport secretary to authorise their own creations.
The aforementioned 14 councils have no authorisation for their own versions of the signs while others didn’t get authorisation for years.
The councils with no DfT authorisation for their signs are: Greenwich, Southwark, Westminster, Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Hillingdon, Kingston-upon-Thames, Merton, Redbridge, Sutton and Waltham Forest.
The following councils received authorisation in 2010 or after: Camden, Islington, Hackney, Lambeth, Harrow, Wandsworth, Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Brent, Newham, Hounslow, Lewisham and Haringey.
Essentially, if you’ve received a ticket relating to a suspended parking bay from one of those councils, you could have a strong case for challenging it. Find out more on Inside Out or by consulting the forums at PePiPoo.
If you’ve got a (currently useless) HMV gift card and are in the vicinity of Kingston-upon-Thames, you can use it to get 50% off a purchase in local indie Banquet Records – no matter how small the amount is that is pre-loaded on to your card.
A statement on the Banquet site says:
We’re very aware and sad that people are looking at losing their jobs, and we’re concerned about the effect HMV’s possible closure may have on physcial releases in general. However, one gripe many have is the current situation where gift cards are now no longer valid at HMVs. Whatever happened, its certainly no fault of the person who got someone a Christmas gift, and its unfair on someone to not be able to use their credit.
We wanted to find a way to make these gift tokens valid at our store. So this is the idea we could come up with. We’ll offer anyone with a valid HMV gift card 50% off in our store up to and including Sunday 20th January.
We want people to come and experience our record shop. To see it’s not all doom and gloom for music retail nor for the high street in general. To come and re-embrace physical releases and the experience of buying them. Pop into our store at 52 Eden St, Kingston and we look forward to welcoming you.
A nice gesture and one that’s well worth taking up if you’re in the vicinity and have an HMV gift card burning a hole in your pocket. There’s a few T&Cs as well, so check out the Banquet website before you start spending.
Now that all that yuletide kerfuffle is over, you might be thinking about getting rid of some of the crap you received in the spirit of goodwill. We gave you a quick rundown of your consumer rights of return last month, but what happens if your gift is faulty.
New figures released by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) show that, between April and November the consumer service in England and Wales dealt with over 400,000 complaints year about products and services worth a total of £3 billion. Over half of these cases concerned faulty goods and sub-standard services with an average cost of over £2,800.
This suggests that there are a lot of retailers out there selling a lot of crap. However, bearing in mind your consumer rights that a product must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose, surely these people in possession of rubbish goods or services can just go back to the retailer for a refund, right?
In theory, yes, under consumer law retailers must give you either a refund, part refund, repair or replacement for faulty products. However in a CAB survey, 9 out of 10 people were not fully successful when they had complained, attempted to get a refund or get the problem put right.
The top ten most complained about faulty goods were:
Second hand cars bought from an independent dealer (you don’t say)
Mobile phone handsets
Lap-tops, notebooks and tablet PCs
Used cars bought from a franchise dealer
Beds and mattresses
Fridges and freezers
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:
“Many people will be disappointed by broken gifts this Christmas. But it’s even more frustrating and expensive when you can’t get your money back. By law retailers must offer refunds, repairs or replacements for faulty products but all too often this is not happening. Household budgets are tight meaning many people don’t have the money to buy a new item if its broken and the seller has refused to sort it out.”
She continued: “Stronger, clearer consumer rights will help protect squeezed spenders from expensive purchases that go wrong, and will give businesses a boost as shoppers feel more confident parting with their hard-earned cash.”
CAB are now campaigning for better and more transparent consumer laws to:
A clear 30 day time-limit for retailers to give refunds so consumers know where they stand.
An option for class action, which would allow groups of consumers to take businesses to court. This would give customers greater confidence, and would make it more worthwhile to take up smaller claims.
Clear information to be displayed when goods are bought. Some businesses try to apply their own returns policy to faulty goods when consumers should be protected under the law.
Greater powers for the Trading Standards services to get customers compensation without having to take businesses through the courts.
All good stuff. And if it all ties in with the Government consultation on the same subject, which closed on 31 December, 2013 could be a shining new horizon for consumer rights. Maybe.
As ever, don’t forget your ’Section 75’ rights, which mean that if you buy goods costing more than £100 on a credit card, the credit card company has the same responsibilities as the trader, so you can get your compensation from them directly should anything go wrong. Your quibble is always with the seller, not the manufacturer (unless you bought direct from the manufacturer).
WHOOPS! Looks like E.On have either been using a malfunctioning calculator or have been putting the decimal point in the wrong place. That’s because it turns out that they’ve overcharged 94,000 customers and now have to pay them back £1.4m, with another £300,000 going in the coffers of charity Age UK.
E.On cocked up by overcharging on exit fees, making an error during a 30-day window that allows customers to switch supplier before a price rise. The rules state that customers who are on fixed-rate deals shouldn’t have to pay an exit fee if they switch, but E.On seemingly got a bit muddled about that.
Also, losing 94,000 customers to a rival must sting a bit, eh? Although, to be fair, it does cover a three year period from 2008 to 2011. If you were overcharged, you should receive a rebate from E.On by the end of January and you do not need to contact the company yourself. So watch out for that post-Christmas windfall (£14.83) flopping on to your doormat.
David Bird of E.On chirped: ‘We are very sorry to have let down some of our former customers and have made clear that we will refund the money plus interest. Our systems are being updated. We have been open in our failure with the energy regulator, Ofgem, and are pleased to have agreed with them how we can put this right and have identified all customers who are due to receive payment from us in January.’
Nice one Bird. Now go and ‘update’ those ‘systems’.